For the third time in their 16-year history, the Columbus Blue Jackets have qualified for the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you’re not already a fan of this plucky franchise (or perhaps watched your own favorite team fall short this season and would like to get in on some of this playoff action), it’s time to hop on the bandwagon. They’re a fun group of underdogs who (we hope) will be good for a long time. Welcome aboard! Consider this your unofficial primer to get you started as a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. We’re glad to have you.
As you can probably gather from the opening sentence of this post, there hasn’t been much to cheer about over the last 16 seasons. The Jackets (that’s what us real fans call ‘em for short) have played twice in the playoffs. They won zero games in 2009 against Detroit and two in 2014 against Pittsburgh, both in overtime. They’re 2-8 in playoff games and have yet to win in regulation. For contrast, Detroit qualified for the playoffs in 25 straight seasons before missing the cut this year. Years of mismanagement, wasted draft picks and squandered talent have rendered CBJ fandom, by and large, an ignominious existence.
It hasn’t been all bad, though. Here’s an admittedly incomplete list of important CBJ moments to celebrate (before this season):
- Inaugural season, forward Geoff Sanderson scores 30 goals (2000-01)
- Forward Rick Nash shares the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored (2003-04)
- Rick Nash scores The Goal against Phoenix (Jan. 17, 2008)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the first time, goalie Steve Mason wins the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year (2008-09)
- Forward Vinny Prospal points at the scoreboard in a 3-0 shutout of Detroit (Mar. 9, 2013)
- In a lockout-shortened season, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina Trophy for best goalie in the league (2012-13)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the second time (2014)
- Columbus earns its first-ever playoff win thanks to a Matt Calvert overtime goal in Game 2 (April 19, 2014)
- Brandon Dubinsky scores with 22.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 4, setting up Nick Foligno’s game winner in overtime (April 23, 2014)
And that’s been about it. There have been far more low points and villains in this franchise’s history, which I’m sure our esteemed commenters will be happy to catch you up on. A lot of sadness. Until…this season.
Quick recap of 2016-17:
- A 16-game winning streak, second-longest in NHL history
- Franchise records for points, wins, wins at home and virtually any other mark of success you can think of
- A league-leading power play for the first few months of the season
- A 10-0 dismantling of the Montreal Canadiens
- A 7-1 beatdown of the Pittsburgh Penguins
- An 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues
- Contenders for Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year), Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player), Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year), Vezina Trophie (Goalie of the Year)
- National recognition
- As of this writing, a fourth-place finish in the entire NHL
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Last year, the Jackets stumbled to the worst start by any team since 1944, got their coach fired and basically saw themselves out of the playoffs by Halloween. They finished 27th out of 30 teams. Over the summer they did little to improve to outside observers, adding no big-name free agents or pulling any blockbuster trades. So how does a team go from second-to-last in the Eastern conference to one of the league’s five best teams?
In short, everything that the Jackets have been banking on for the last half-dozen years happened all at once. Several young stars-in-waiting finally made their big leaps in development. Coach John Tortorella, a championship-winning hothead whose fiery demeanor wore out welcomes in New York and Vancouver, brought a kindler, gentler approach while instilling structure to an extremely young team. An incredible power play carried the team through the first half the season. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky shed years of injury-plagued worries to turn in the best season in franchise history. Veterans have regained their mojo and meshed with the kids.
So: skill and luck got married this season and it’s almost time to dance at the reception.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, reigning Stanley Cup champions. The NHL’s wacky postseason scheduling pits the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 team against the No. 3 team…but come on, it was always going to be Pittsburgh. As the closest NHL team to Columbus, CBJ faithful have watched Pittsburgh fans invade Nationwide Arena for years whenever the Penguins come to town. Columbus fans consider Pittsburgh their rival but Pittsburgh fans do not feel the same way. Imagine you’re a little brother, and you have to watch your popular jock older brother win all the awards and celebrate with his friends and drive away in a cool car. You want to beat him more than anything in the world. A few years ago you got a couple licks in, but it wasn’t enough. Now…you think you’re ready.
(And he’s probably not that worried.)
Many of the principal players from that 2014 series will feature heavily in this series. Columbus forward Brandon Dubinsky and megastar Pens forward Sidney Crosby have a long and acrimonious relationship that you’ll hear a lot about over the next week. Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 will be in Pittsburgh. Games 3,4 and 6 will be in Columbus (the full schedule will be out Sunday night).
Players to Love
For you, the new fan, one question looms: who should I love? Good news: You have some incredible choices! Here are a few fan favorites in no particular order:
- Nick Foligno: The captain. American. Bounced back from an atrocious season last year. By all accounts, the nicest human to ever live. After every win, he stretches his arms wide to hug…
- Sergei Bobrovsky: Goalie Bob. Goofy, Russian and extremely good. Famous as a TSN (Canadian ESPN) anchor’s catchphrase. Could win the Vezina as the league’s best goaltender.
- Cam Atkinson: A 27-year-old diminutive (5’ 7”) American forward who has turned in a career season. A 50,000-watt smile. Nobody doesn’t love Cam.
- Brandon Dubinsky: A 30-year-old American forward who is the heart and soul of the Jackets. The player most likely to take a dumb penalty and/or blow up on the bench. Has a killer vacant stare. Couple of screws loose.
- Seth Jones: One of the team’s three All-Stars this season (with Cam and Bob). Big 22-year-old American defenseman. Son of former NBA player and coach Popeye Jones. Silky smooth with the puck.
- Zach Werenski: A fresh-faced 19-year-old American defenseman who has turned in the best season by either a rookie or a defensemen in Columbus history. Shows little emotion. Would be Rookie of the Year in any other season.
- Alex Wennberg: A devastatingly handsome Swedish center. The Jackets have been waiting on him to blossom and boy did he ever this year. You’ll always see him together with fellow Swede “Wild Bill” William Karlsson.
- Matt Calvert: A speedy, gritty 27-year-old Canadian forward who’s the longest-tenured Blue Jacket. In a game earlier this season against the Rangers, he took a puck to the head and received 36 stitches before returning to score the game-winning goal.
- Brandon Saad: A 24-year-old American forward who came to Columbus in a blockbuster trade two years ago. He’s already won two Cups with Chicago and possesses offensive skills nobody else on this team has. A piece of the future for a long time.
- Boone Jenner: Big, strong 23-year-old Canadian forward. The definition of power forward. He, like Dubinsky, is not afraid to throw down.
- Scott Hartnell: The oldest player on the team, the 34-year-old Canadian forward has seen it all in the NHL. A jokester who gives to charity and loves to get in opponents’ faces. He’ll play a big part in the series against Pittsburgh.
If you’re lucky enough to catch one of the playoff games in Nationwide (or any game in the future), there are a couple of things you need to know to blend in with the locals.
- Leo Welsh sings the national anthem and he’s awesome. After he’s introduced on the PA, the entire crowd yells “LEO!”
- The Jackets own a cannon that fires when the team skates out and after every goal. Best goal celebration in the league.
- After the third CBJ goal, fans yell “CHILI!” to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance, as fans get free chili the next day. It used to be Wendy’s, then Bob Evans, now it’s Roosters.
- Streamers. Ask Pittsburgh fans.
Favorite GIFs from this season
You’ve stuck with this guide long enough. This very blog will preview the hell out both Columbus and Pittsburgh over the next couple of days and our wonderful commenters will love to help you out in your journey as a Jackets fan. I’ll leave you with some of my favorite GIFs from this amazing season.
John Tortorella let Tim Peel have it after Roman Polak boarded Oliver Bjorkstrand out of the game. pic.twitter.com/cXIJYyWdSF— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) March 23, 2017
Scott Hartnell says goodbye to the Joe one last time. pic.twitter.com/epQ2orUhW2— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) February 8, 2017
Let's all enjoy Cam Atkinson trying to stifle his laughter on the bench pic.twitter.com/j8Bz41kIVb— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) January 15, 2017
This is an older brother "you saved over my game" fight. pic.twitter.com/WiU4cmy0Qw— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) January 14, 2017
See you in the playoffs.