Blue Jackets intense playing style draws raves from opponents

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) celebrates win with right wing Cam Atkinson (13) and center Ryan Johansen (19) against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. The Blue Jackets defeated the Flyers, 2-0.

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What a ride.

As the 2013-14 NHL season winds to a close this weekend, there’s no better time to reflect on the Columbus Blue Jackets successful quest to qualify for this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Every year, in every sport, there are teams that underachieve relative to their collective skill set. Columbus was not one of them. If there’s an underlying trait to this team, it is its commitment to a collective effort that brings the group to a level that seems to rise above its cumulative talents. It’s the old whole being greater than the sum of the parts adage, and that’s a credit to the coaching staff and players.

It’s also why this year’s edition of the Columbus Blue Jackets, much like last year’s team, has been so much fun to follow. Almost without fail, this group brings a relentless and physical brand of play against every opponent, in every building. Sure, there have been a few exceptions, which is normal given the marathon NHL 82-game season, especially in a condensed-schedule Olympic year.

But for the most part, the Blue Jackets have not been outworked. Maybe the execution hasn’t been as flawless as the coaches and players would like at times, but the effort, physicality, and work ethic have been virtually beyond reproach. It’s certainly not an easy style to play, not in a contact sport with so many games. But it’s a style that has drawn the admiration of the hockey world, and it has become this team’s unmistakable identity.

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When John Davidson took on the job of president of hockey operations in Columbus, one of the first things he promised is that the team would not be outworked. Through the coaching staff and players, he has delivered. It’s a team that prides itself on winning one-on-one battles, in all three zones. The commitment to forechecking and puck retrieval has been eye-popping. And the willingness to sit talented players who don’t play with the level of intensity the team’s style of play requires has been eye-opening.

Surely, it’s been more than intensity and a relentless work ethic that has gotten Columbus into the playoffs. It isn’t every year that two rookies have the impact on an NHL team that Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray have had on this season’s Blue Jackets. And the emergence of Ryan Johansen into one of the game’s rising young stars has been nothing short of phenomenal. Down the stretch, he emerged as the kind of game-breaking player every team covets.

And what about Bob? There’s no way this team qualifies for hockey’s version of the big dance without the kind of world-class goaltending Sergei Bobrovsky has brought to his position night after night. He may not have quite the numbers he had last year during his Vezina campaign, but he’s pretty darn close to playing at that level. In other words, he always gives his team a chance to win.

World-class goaltending, rising young stars, and young veterans who have made huge contributions to this team have all been instrumental in its playoff-worthy success this season. And when you factor in the commitment to the heavy, intensely physical game this team is willing to play, it’s the reason the hockey world is saying the Blue Jackets will not be an easy playoff opponent.

Whatever happens in the post-season, this regular season has to be considered a resounding success. This franchise has taken a significant step forward because of the commitment of the collective group. Along the way, the Blue Jackets have continued to crystallize an identity that has drawn the respect of the hockey world, and — with the collection of young talent in the organization — the foundation appears to be very, very solid.