As the Blue Jackets prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season at CONSOL Energy Center Thursday night, it will be exactly ten months from the night that the team earned their first playoff win in the exact same spot.
Last April, the Jackets lost game one on Pittsburgh’s home ice by a score of 4-3 and Pittsburgh fans were bullish on the opportunity to beat a team that they had beaten in every one of the five regular season matchups played last year.
"Going into the series, I picked the Pens to win in 6," said Meesh Shanmugam, contributor to ThePensNation.com. "I thought the Blue Jackets would be thoroughly dominated by a more talented team, but Bobrovsky would steal a game and Fleury would lose one."
But even after a loss, the Jackets were ready to show they were not going to go out of the playoffs quietly. FOX Sports Ohio rinkside reporter and game host Dave Maetzold was in Pittsburgh and had a rinkside view from the platform he was stationed on for live shots.
"Everybody went in to the series with guarded optimism," Maetzold said. "Everyone knew the team was playing well but they also knew the team had never won a playoff game. The Jackets had a big monkey they were carrying on their back, and no one knew when it would it fall off."
That monkey fell off in a big way. Maetzold watched across the ice as Jackets forward Matt Calvert banged in a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime to earn the 4-3 win over the Penguins. The victory evened the playoff series 1-1 and marked the first ever Jackets playoff win.
Maetzold remembers watching defenseman Ryan Murray going after Calvert to celebrate.
"There’s a saying that a series doesn’t begin until you win a playoff game on your opponent’s ice," Maetzold said. "So many things happened all at the once — with that win it felt like now we’re a playoff team."
The impact of the win rolled all the way from Pittsburgh to Jackets fans in Columbus. Columbus resident, and Jackets fan, John Kemp has followed the team since its inception.
"Watching a young team come together faster than expected and perform better than expected gave me a crucial ingredient to be a fan – ‘hope,’" Kemp said. "Columbus stopped being the punch line, and hockey fans from around the world spoke of the grit of the team."
Even those in Pittsburgh had to admire what Columbus did with their first postseason tally in the W column. Shanmugam admits he is still surprised at how well the Jackets handled adversity in the franchise’s second ever visit to the playoffs.
"The Blue Jackets did not look like a young team that was making their first playoff run in many years," Shanmugam said. "They looked like a team that knew they belonged."
After the momentous landmark win, the series returned to Columbus for a total of three games and back to Pittsburgh for one. The Jackets would earn their first playoff win on home ice before ultimately lose the series four games to two.
It’s now been ten months since those playoff victories, but in a season marred by injuries, the accomplishment of that first playoff win in Pittsburgh still carries great meaning when people consider the future of the organization.
"That season changed me as a Blue Jackets fan," Kemp said. "I could now go all in for this team and I know they wouldn’t let me down. That helps a great deal for this season where I can watch game after game of a team not getting rewarded with wins and know that they will get back on track soon."
Maetzold still recalls the incredible atmosphere of the playoff games and how great it was to have Columbus silence the home crowd with Calvert’s landmark goal. He sees the long-term impact of knowing that anything is possible with this team echoed in the Jackets’ most recent games — including two wins against Philadelphia. Last Friday, the Jackets clawed back after being down 3-1, and fought through a tough second period Tuesday night to beat the Flyers 5-2.
And while the Jackets currently sit 11 points out of a playoff spot, the accomplishments of last season are helping cultivate a reputation built on significant wins, not losses.
"I firmly believe that the memories of that series, and the fact that they were never out of it until it was over, will have an effect on them for years to come," Shanmugam said. "Not only was that series a moment of growth for the franchise, but it was also a moment of realization that they can compete."