It was the beginning of this five-game Metropolitan Division run in the Columbus Blue Jackets schedule, a stretch of games that most associated with the team saw as pivotal to hopes of a playoff run.
You may recall that first game ended rather badly. After taking a 3-0 lead into the third period against the Flyers, the Blue Jackets suffered arguably their worst meltdown of the year, losing 5-4 in regulation. Granted, one of Philadelphia’s torrent of goals defied the laws of physics, and the other simply scoffed at all we know about spatial math.
But that’s not the point. Bad bounces aside, Columbus played some of its worst hockey at exactly the same time it needed to be showing the rest of the Eastern Conference it deserved to be in the playoff conversation. When Claude Giroux finished the Flyers’ unlikely comeback win with that no-look, falling-down, backhand laser that found the only four inches of net available, it was more than a miracle shot. It looked like a goal that could render the Blue Jackets an afterthought in the Metropolitan playoff race.
Uh, maybe not. This team has apparently decided it would not allow that 20 minutes of self-destruction in South Philadelphia to define its season. In a twist of scheduling fate, the Blue Jackets were afforded the chance to redeem themselves against the Flyers almost immediately. Just 48 hours after limping back to the bus in the City of Brotherly Love, Columbus did the turnabout-is-fair-play thing right back at the Flyers, scoring four goals in the third period to break a tie and earn a critical 6-3 home win.
That was just the beginning of a collective team response that now has the Blue Jackets very much in the playoff conversation as we get set to turn the calendar to 2014. The team followed its thumping of the Flyers with a character, comeback win late in the third period at Carolina, then edged the Devils 2-1 in a road shootout Friday, despite the fact that Martin Brodeur was partying like it was 1999 in the New Jersey net.
That’s three divisional wins in a row, two of them in regulation. The fact that the Blue Jackets have been able to go on this run after suffering their most devastating loss of the year speaks volumes. And the fact they’ve been able to do it while missing at least four regulars up front, their most bruising stay-at-home defenseman, and their starting goaltender speaks way more than volumes. It’s a veritable senate filibuster.
Along the way, the team seems to have rediscovered its edge. Right now, Columbus is a tough team to play against, a team that is outworking opponents and limiting offensive chances.It’s a team that seems to be taking a page right out of the spectacular run from last season. They’re using their speed, crashing and banging on the forecheck, owning the neutral zone for long stretches, and they’re making sure the front porch is protected in their own end.
Maybe the Blue Jackets were embarrassed by the pre-Christmas debacle on the road against the Flyers. Maybe they just decided to quote Roberto Duran — in a good way — and decided "no mas."
Whatever happened, the team took a moment that could have signaled a very-premature end to the season and has seemed to turn it into the beginning of something very special.