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A look into what Columbus did to earn a believer

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It was going to take showing up in a playoff series and winning it before I could fully buy into what the Blue Jackets were selling. After a sweep of the historic Lightning, I’m ready for much more.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Today was my turn to think of a topic for your Columbus Blue Jackets and frankly, I wasn’t sure where to start. So I decided to draw from what’s on my mind the most.

✔️ Jackets swept the Lightning straight out of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the sunny Tampa golf course

✔️ Sergei Bobrovsky was sensational (Literally everyone was as PD looks at the MVP).

✔️ The power play resembled a power play that looked ... like the Lightning’s league-best power play. Forget the fact they went a playoff-best 5-for-10 against the regular-season No. 1 PK, and had another one overturned because of an offsides call; they were hard on the puck the entire series. Moving the puck and staying hard on the puck unlike anything we've seen the Blue Jackets resemble. After that off-sides call in Game 4, maybe my favorite part was how hard they stayed on the puck, for the rest of that power play and the nearly 40 seconds after the power play ended.

✔️ Trade deadline acquisition Matt Duchene was superb

✔️ John Tortorella out-coached the possible Jack Adams winner in Jon Cooper

I could probably go on. But the main thing to pull from after this stunning series sweeping win is the Blue Jackets did something I surely never expected. No one did. They proved to me they are as good as any team in the league. They surely can win it all. Not saying they will, but we never could have predicted this group playing to the level that they did against the historic league-best 62-win Lightning. The Blue Jackets didn’t just do enough to steal a few games; something I considered to be the perfect scenario in which maybe the series goes six games and they still end up flat on their face because they’re up against the Lightning.

And it sure looked like it was going to be a sweep — the other way — following the first period of Game 1.

In a March 27 article titled As Usual, Blue Jackets Doing Their Best to Pull us Back in, that was classic Blue Jackets, previously looking lost and confused and a discombobulated mess following their loss to the Oilers Mar. 21 and Seth Jones talking about the team needing to find what motivates them. Things couldn’t have looked worse at that point.

Then the team rallied around the dinner and beers that John Tortorella mentioned. Thus making us wonder if they were actually a poised playoff team after all.

But I had already put myself on the record saying I didn’t buy what this team was selling. An excerpt from that above article:

It’s a nice thought, but I’m not ready to buy that this team has suddenly turned a corner. Call me pessimistic, but to me, this is classic fools gold, and nothing will convince me they are for real until they advance in the playoffs. Torts was right, the time for talking was over after the Oilers loss, and so far, they’ve delivered in that small sample.

If they are going to make the playoffs this season, they’ll have overcome adversity of the past month, having shaken one more miserable loss to the Oilers for consecutive shutout wins they had to have.

At that point in the schedule, the Jackets had won two-straight games by shutout fashion over the Canucks and Islanders, an aggregate 9-0 score, and were set to battle the Canadiens in a pivotal wild card showdown. The Jackets of course took care of business in convincing fashion after a slow start, beating the Habs 6-2. They throttled the Predators (5-2) and Sabres (4-0) with back-to-back three-goal first periods, got shaken but ultimately not stirred by the Bruins, another national televised embarrassment, 6-2, in which Bobrovsky was pulled from his possible last regular season home game. They made things interesting in typical down-to-the-wire fashion with a shootout win at The World’s Most Famous Arena against the Rangers to officially clinch a playoff spot, and then beat the Senators for good measure going into the playoffs.

All in all, they’ve won 11 of 12, following the Tampa sweep, and outscored opponents 53-22 in that span since losing to the Oilers.

34-14 Mar. 24 - Apr. 6

19-8 vs Lightning

That Boston loss skewed the total because following the Mar. 21 loss to the Oilers, the Jackets went on a five-game win streak, outscoring the opposition 24-4. It’s easy to point to whatever happened in between Edmonton and Vancouver at that dinner and beer session. Stories since say the team talked through whatever issues were ailing. And it was evident that something was ailing.

You can throw the the first period of Game 1 against the Lighting away, because at that point, it was typical playoff Bob and Blue Jackets, a team not that was not supposed to contend with the odds-on Stanley Cup favorite.

Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic picked Bolts in six games and said he might’ve picked Columbus against any other team in the league.

“Any other team in the East and I might have picked Columbus. The Jackets are deep, yes, but what really matters here is that this is a group — at least the guys that have been there a while — that have taken a few kicks at the can.”

If you remember my interview with Fox Sports broadcaster Jody Shelley last fall, he said the time was now for Columbus to take that next step, “the time to do it is now. Their window needs to be open now and they need to start realizing that.”

With it being a few days since the end of the series, and some time to reflect on everything that has happened in the days and weeks since, the obvious turning point for me was the Canadian west coast trip. Sometimes teams overcome adversity and get on a run, sometimes that adversity is the straw that breaks the camels’ back.

I don’t often subscribe to the thought that the team that is just fighting to get into the playoffs is necessarily better off in that scenario than the team that is on cruise control heading in. Both have their merits, and though my preseason pick to win it all was not the Lightning, I certainly did not think Columbus would be, by far, the best team in the series.

But in this case, maybe in that one percent scenario, it was that hot team that gained a swagger, played with confidence, saw it grow, and maybe also, in part because of John Tortorella’s viral pre-game talk that motivated a T-shirt (buy here).

The all-in move by Jarmo Kekäläinen at the trade deadline, while risky, was needed for the franchise. It echoes Shelley’s “the time is now.” I loved them going for it, for better or worse. We’ve seen draft picks come and go, high picks bust, picks you may not have expected much from to thrive. The quote below by Kekäläinen tells you all you need to know about what he thinks about winning.

I was kind of thinking about the rest versus rust factor Columbus is in now. They did what any team wants to do; end a series in four games. Now their next foe, either the Bruins or Maple Leafs, series currently tied at two games, continues to unfold, and a potential Game 7 is Tuesday, a week after the Jackets met the Lightning for a handshake. I’m not worried about rust. The Jackets just pulled of the improbable, not just winning one game, but four-straight, because they outplayed, outclassed, and out-coached maybe the best regular season team we’ll ever see.

Just play your game.

The type of game we’ve often heard referred to by the players and coaches as to how they need to play, but then never seemed to be able to consistently back it up on they ice. But we saw that, and for the first time, I trust Bobrovsky, the power play, and the players, led by captain Nick Foligno, to bring the same urgency to a series that we saw last time out. It was always going to have to be them proving to me that they are up to the challenge. Well. You did it, now finish the job.