For the first time in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets are going to back-to-back postseasons. Thanks to getting to overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they punched their ticket to the big dance. The Penguins won the game 5-4 in overtime.
The Blue Jackets were able to recover from winning just 15 regulation games in their first 52 outings to make these playoffs. How were they able to make this happen?
A Quick Review
The first place you have to look at is the goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s gone 12-2 in his last 14 starts before Thursday and was the backstop to the Blue Jackets 10-game winning streak. When the streak started, they were out of the playoffs. They now sit third in the Metro with their sights set on home-ice advantage in the first round.
Next you have to look at the play of Seth Jones. He’s loudly announced his Norris trophy candidacy. He has 16-41-57 entering Thursday’s play including his first career four-point game in Vancouver which helped the team earn a desperately needed point. He has been everything for this team at both ends of the ice.
Up front, Artemi Panarin has caught fire. While many questioned him being away from Patrick Kane, Panarin is showing us that he is elite on his own. He has a line of 27-53-80 in 80 games. His 53 assists is a new career high. He also had four points in Vancouver Saturday to salvage a point. He’s helped turn on the games of Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois along the way.
Speaking of them, the veterans led by Atkinson and the youth led by Dubois have elevated their games to help the team to this point. The offense has averaged over four goals per game over their last 13 outings and was the catalyst to the winning streak.
In conclusion, this playoff berth was a total team effort. From the players we’ve mentioned above to the coaching of John Tortorella to the moves management made at the deadline, it all came together for the Blue Jackets at the perfect time. The result is another shot to win their first ever playoff series.
And that’s the thing here. While they accomplished their goal of making the playoffs, they will be judged by their performance in the playoffs. Now that they’re in, they must find a way to win at least one playoff series.
The Blue Jackets only lasted 10 days in the 2017 playoffs thanks to a five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tortorella’s message to the team at the end of last season was “10 days.” They have made it their goal to not only last 10 days, but to last until they win a Stanley Cup. They just might have the personnel to do it.
Veterans Ian Cole, Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu have brought leadership to the room and have helped the Blue Jackets improve in areas of need. They’ve been better in faceoffs. Their defensive pairs have been stabilized. And they’re now scoring more. A young, talented team is now learning under these veterans. Don’t underestimate the importance of this especially when there are critical moments during these playoffs.
A Historic Moment But Just the Beginning
But for now, the Blue Jackets can celebrate clinching a precious playoff spot. We don’t know as of yet who their opponent will be come next week. With Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey all in the mix, these last games will sort that out for us.
While this is a historic moment for the Blue Jackets franchise, there are more important matters to attend to. Their battle is just beginning. They’ll celebrate this achievement for a night and then it’s back to work. That’s the way it should be. This is just step one of many.
The franchise has never been in better shape. Returning to the playoffs for a second straight season seals that. The best is truly yet to come for this franchise.