Playoff berth clinched but no letting up with 2 games to go
There is no doctor than can cure this illness. The only prescription is to win. And for only the second time in franchise history, playoff fever has taken hold of Columbus.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are like manna from the heavens. Making the dance is a step on the road to attaining the ultimate prize. The Blue Jackets took that step on Wednesday evening in Dallas, clinching their spot and awaiting word on who will be their dance partner in the first round.
Blue Jackets playoff merchandise is already available. The buzz surrounding the team is palpable. But, that enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that there are still two games to play and Columbus can advance their seeding before the final horn sounds.
"It’s a great feeling," said forward Brandon Dubinsky. "You play this game for the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve made the first step towards doing that. Only sixteen teams make the dance, and we’re one of those. The sky’s the limit for this group. That should be our goal and it will remain our goal."
It’s been five years since they last tasted the postseason. Five long seasons in which they finished last in the Central division three out of four years. But, something feels different this time around.
The "brick-by-brick" philosophy ushered in when John Davidson was brought on board as President of Hockey Operations has transformed the club into what many have yearned for, for oh-so-many years.
The culture has seen a 180-degree turnaround. The emergence of the young players into bona fide NHL players has seemingly happened at an accelerated pace. Revamping a franchise usually takes a few years. And yet, the mental aspect of believing in themselves now permeates the very fabric of the club.
It’s not hyperbole to think that this young group might make some waves once postseason play begins next week. They have overcome adversity throughout the season as they have found a way to win. They must do so now, again. With Nathan Horton (lower body), Nick Foligno (lower body) and RJ Umberger (upper body) all out with injury, others must step up.
As Kurt Russell (playing the part of Herb Brooks) said in the movie "Miracle," "the name on the front is a hell of lot more important than the one on the back." These guys have taken that to heart and believe that to their core. They know the history of the club, with its lack of sustained success, and they believe that it is time to write a new chapter.
With two games to play to close out the regular season, they are aiming to climb past the Philadelphia Flyers and into third in the Metropolitan division. Currently tied on points (91), they each have two games left to play. The Blue Jackets are one regulation/overtime win behind the Flyers, who have 38 ROW.
Columbus is in sunny Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night followed by the finale with the Florida Panthers on Saturday. The Flyers play the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday and close out their season at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. If they both win the final two games, the standings stay as they are, with Columbus holding the first wild-card position.
As it stands currently, Columbus would play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. But if the Blue Jackets win out and Philadelphia loses just one of their final two games, Columbus would advance to third place in the division, setting up a first round matchup with the New York Rangers. Neither team, Columbus or Philadelphia, can surpass the Rangers at this point.
For the Blue Jackets, it doesn’t really matter who they play. They know they are a dangerous team to play against when they are on their game. Staying focused is the key.
"Even if the cards don’t fall that way and we don’t better our position," Dubinsky said, "it’s about going into the postseason playing the right way and making sure that we’re on top of our game. I’ve went into the post-season on both sides (with the New York Rangers), not on top of our game and on top of our game.
"The times that we won series and moved on, were the times that we entered the postseason playing at our best. I expect that this group will do it just knowing the resiliency and character that we have in here. We’re excited for the opportunity."
Getting to third place in the division is not out of the realm of possibility, with the Flyers stumbling to the finish line. Philadelphia is 3-7-0 in their last 10 games, with a four-game losing streak in the middle of that. Columbus, on the other hand, is 6-3-1 in their last 10 and currently on a three game winning streak.
For many fans, it’s a relief that the Blue Jackets are in the playoffs. They’ve waited for some time for a return to postseason play. For the players, they are hungry and they want more. At the end of the day, that is an admirable quality and mindset to have.