(2) PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. (7) COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
SERIES TIED 1-1
The series starts anew tonight, but Columbus has the advantage this time around.
By splitting the first two games of the seven-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center, the Blue Jackets have effectively reduced the series to a "best-of-five" affair. Three wins for either team, and it’s over. However, the fact that Columbus stole game two from the Pens in Pittsburgh means that three out of the next five potential games – including Monday night and Wednesday’s games – will be played at Nationwide Arena. That means the Blue Jackets get to enjoy the comforts of sleeping in their own beds more, less travel, using their own locker room and training facilities – and the last line change, giving coach Todd Richards the ability to counter whatever he sees from the Penguins coming out of a stoppage in play with the players that he chooses. Columbus gets all that, and the thrill of playing in front of a wild home crowd at Nationwide.
I was there, 1,826 days ago, at Nationwide Arena when the Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings played the fourth and final game of their 2008-09 Western Conference Quarterfinal series. I witnessed firsthand the cascading sound from the Columbus Blue Jackets faithful raining down onto the ice. I’ve been to many, many big sporting events – a Super Bowl, a Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a couple college football bowl games including a BCS bowl game, a handful of top-ranked college football matchups and others – but, for my money, no sporting experience that I have ever witnessed came close to the electricity in Nationwide Arena that night. It was transcendent. (On a related note, I have chuckled as the many new faces on the Blue Jackets talked up the atmosphere of last season’s closer against Nashville in promotional media over the course of the regular season. I was there, too, and the Nashville game was loud and exciting…but nothing even close to 2009. Guys, check with Jared Boll, Fedor Tyutin or R.J. Umberger about 2009.)
Here’s the funny thing: That madness (and I am hard pressed to come up with a better word for that which I witnessed) in the last half of the third period, 1,826 days ago, was the result of a desperate fan base trying to will their team back into a game – and a series – where they were on the ropes. Monday night, the Blue Jackets will hit the ice not as scrappy spoilers-to-be but rather as genuine contenders in this series. The Blue Jackets aren’t down three games to zero – they’re tied, 1-1, with the Penguins. It’s a night-and-day difference in circumstances which, I would think, gives those attending even more motivation to be at least as wild as the crowd was in 2009. For while the team has to do their part, I’ll suggest that it was the crowd that made that game four so memorable. Again, I have never witnessed anything like it.
Monday night – and Wednesday – has the chance to be the stuff of local sports legend in Columbus. A win in either of those games means that game six, which also will be in Columbus if needed, could be just as wild. This is a magical time for Columbus sports fans, and I hope that everyone in attendance recognizes the magnitude of that in which they are taking part – and, in the process, makes this series something that will be spoken of as reverently around town as that wild finish to the CBJ’s season five years ago.
Enjoy the game, everyone, and cheer long and hard for the Blue Jackets!