The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the National Hockey League in the 2000-01 season. In the 19 years since, the team has made the playoffs several times, but it has never won a single playoff series, and every year, dedicated Blue Jackets fans have gone home disappointed.
Until now. This year, the Blue Jackets and their fans are off the schneid — and in spectacular fashion, too.
The Blue Jackets made the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season. As the eighth seed, they had to face the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning, which had tied the NHL record for the number of wins in a season, racked up an absurd number of points, and led the NHL in virtually every statistical category. Tampa Bay was a prohibitive favorite in the series, and no one outside of the hopeful Columbus fan base gave the Blue Jackets much of a chance.
And yet, the CBJ won. And they not only won, they did so in dominant fashion, sweeping the Lightning and capping off their triumph with a 7-3 win last night. The fact that the Blue Jackets beat the Lightning at all is extraordinary — the Lightning were the biggest favorites to lose a playoff series since 2010 — but the fact that the CBJ won in a sweep is historic. Tampa Bay is the first team in the NHL’s expansion era to get swept in the first round of the playoffs after leading the league in points during the regular season. That means the Blue Jackets have done something no team has done in more than 50 years.
I’m thrilled for the Blue Jackets, for their fans who get to savor the taste of a playoff series win, and also for Columbus itself, which will enjoy some of the fun and excitement and craziness as the NHL playoffs move forward and the city’s home team advances. The CBJ will play the winner of the Boston-Toronto series in the next round.
March on, CBJ!
The National Hockey League playoffs are underway. The Columbus Blue Jackets had an up-and-down season and were one of the last teams to clinch a playoff spot. Their reward was to draw the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. The Lightning had a record-setting season that saw them lose only 16 games, and in their playoff match-up with the CBJ they are prohibitive favorites.
Playing at home in the first game of the playoff series last night, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, making the prognostications of a four-game sweep look solid. But somehow, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made some improbable saves, the Blue Jackets kept their poise and started chipping away at the lead, and thanks to a three-goal third period and a last-minute power play score the CBJ — improbably — pulled out a victory on the road.
One road victory does not a series win make — as the Jackets learned last year, even two road wins doesn’t do that — but last night’s win allows CBJ fans to dream of an upset and has to give the team a shot of confidence. Speaking for the city of Columbus, it would be nice to see the Blue Jackets, who have never won a playoff series in their history, advance to the second round. For now, though, we’ll just settle for the general aura of good feeling that descends upon a town when its team gets a big win. I expect there will be a lot of happy faces around downtown Columbus today.
Kish and I went out to dinner last night with friends, and downtown was hopping. The Blue Jackets were playing, a potential spot in the NHL playoffs was on the line, and many of the people we saw were wearing their CBJ colors.
We kept our eye on the TV as we dined, keeping track of the game, and continued to follow it when we stopped in a Short North bar for a frosty adult beverage after dinner. Everyone in the establishment cheered when the CBJcame away with a hard-fought 3-1 victory, but our joy was short-lived — the other two teams vying for playoff spots won, and as a result the Blue Jackets are once more going to stay home for the NHL playoffs.
It was an exciting season for the Blue Jackets, and even non-hockey fans like me had to appreciate this team that wouldn’t quit and ended the season playing as well as anybody in the NHL. Still, I’m not much for moral victories. The fact remains that the CBJ didn’t quite play well enough to make the playoffs, and that is the bottom line.
I hope this young team can stay together, I hope that their young goalie, Sergie Bobrovsky, can continue to play as well as he did this year, and I hope that next year the Blue Jackets play for the entire season like they did over the last six weeks. Hope, hope, and more hope. If you are a hockey fan in Columbus, that’s what you’ve got to go on until next fall.