Surely, you will understand if your average, neighborhood Columbus Blue Jackets fan has a little more spring in the step and a broader smile today.
Think Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show." You remember the scene, where he greets the little girl with a huge grin and a hearty "Good morning," then adds, "Oh, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night!"
Yeah, it’s a brighter day for Columbus Blue Jackets fans today. For the second time in team history, the team has qualified for the right to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. And this relentlessly hard-working group did it with a stretch of five wins in its past seven games, including three straight victories on the road.
Wednesday’s postseason clincher in Dallas was the Blue Jackets team-record 42nd win of the season, 24 of them coming so far in the second half of the season. It was also the team’s 20th road win of the year, another franchise mark. Keep in mind, this is the same team that dug itself quite the hole when it lost five straight games in regulation over a week and a half stretch in late-October, early-November.
That slump dropped the Blue Jackets to 5-10-0 on the season. Since then, Columbus has scorched the NHL landscape with a mark of 37-21-7. Along the way, the kids have made remarkable strides in their level of development and production. Boone Jenner, for example, has scored 10 of his 15 goals in the second half. And Ryan Johansen, who’s having a monster year, has 32 goals on the season and the game deciding goal in the team’s last four one-goal wins.
But the veterans have made their mark in a big way, too. Artem Anisimov, who scored the game-winning goal in the clincher in Dallas, has 11 goals in the second half. And Mark Letestu, who suffered through an extended scoring drought in the first half of the season, scored for the third straight game in Dallas and has 10 goals since the calendar turned.
And perhaps the most consistent second-half point producer among the team’s veterans has been James Wisniewski. Now in his ninth NHL season, Wisniewski has hit the 50-point plateau for the second time (2010-11) in his career. Of those 50 points, 29 have come since January 4th, a stretch of 38 games. He’s also played 73 games this season, the second highest total of his career and says the two go hand-in-hand.
"I personally think it’s staying healthy," he noted. "The past two healthy seasons I’ve had, I’ve been able to put up 50-plus points, and hopefully I can stay healthy more often the rest of my career."
A healthy Wisniewski has helped the Blue Jackets set another team record, goals scored. Columbus has 221 on the season, breaking the mark of 220 set in 2008-09, the only other playoff season for the team. He has been especially proficient on the power play, generating more than half his points when the Blue Jackets have the man advantage. The Michigan native says the Blue Jackets will need to continue to focus on special teams play to have playoff success.
"You can bear down on certain things," he explained. "For instance, when you’re killing a penalty, you have to make sure you get in the shooting lane and really make sure you don’t screen the goalie. And when you get a power play opportunity, you really have to bear down on your scoring chances. You never know if that shift is going to make the difference in the game or not."
Wisniewski believes his team’s battle to clinch a playoff spot will serve it well when the post-season begins next week. He thinks the Blue Jackets have been in the playoff mode for a long time.
"I think we’ve been playing with that playoff mentality since January," he said. "I don’t think anything has changed; we’ve been fighting for our playoff lives, and everyone knows they better be ready to play.
"For us to be able to play playoff-like hockey for two months straight is only going to help us going into the playoffs. We’re very much going to be battle ready for whoever we play in the first round."
No wonder Blue Jackets fans are smiling like Truman Burbank today.