The Jackets Are In The Playoffs! - Random Musings
Somewhere in my brain, I think there might be a coherent, long-winded reflective post about the Jackets making it back to the playoffs two years after a complete implosion. But, I just haven't gotten there yet.
Last night had its share of tense moments in the third period. Despite the 3-0 lead, I kept remembering how they'd led 3-0 against the Stars earlier in the season, only to see Dallas come roaring back in the third period and get it 3-2 and continue to hammer away.
Once the Jackets got under 30 seconds, each passing second lifted the vise-grip from my fragile nerves, as my brain subconsciously did the math of how likely it would actually be for a team to score two goals in 30... 29... 28... 27...
Amidst the mess of jubilation in the Game Thread, my brain started to try to latch on to some semblance of a thread to really expound upon for this team. But, the emotion of seeing this franchise--all but left for dead nationally two years ago--punching their ticket to the post-season was too much. I couldn't hold onto any one thought long enough to really come up with a cogent take to write a longer piece about.
So, here, instead, is my list of random threads and chunks of worthless information. Call it Playoff Stew; it's a recap of all the things that passed through my head.
- I have a picture frame up in my office here at home with pictures of the opening face-offs from the two playoff games in Nationwide from 2009. I created this cool frame that says: "Columbus Blue Jackets - First Home Playoff Games in Franchise History". I made it in 2009 thinking that, someday, it'd be this cool thing I could show my kids, who by then would have been so used to playoff hockey that they might think it amazing to realize there was a day where my wife and I went to the arena, and it was the first time. Little did I know when I made that frame that the dates--also emblazoned on the frame--of April 21, 2009 and April 23, 2009 would signify the LAST time the Jackets would be in the playoffs until this day. At the moment the horn sounded last night to clinch it for Columbus, April 23, 2009 was 1,812 days ago.
- Also of note: guess how many current Blue Jackets were on the roster 1,812 days ago for those playoffs. If you guessed THREE players (Jared Boll, Derek MacKenzie, and R.J. Umberger), you were right.  As pointed out in the comments, I'm an idiot. Fedor Tyutin!
- When the Jackets lost to the Islanders on Sunday, March 23, I wrote them off. The other writers can tell you that, on our e-mail thread that afternoon, I has basically thrown in the playoff towel. Emotions were running high. Matt was the voice of reason, noting that the Detroit game the following Tuesday was key. Since that loss to the Islanders, the Jackets have gone 6-2-1, good for 13 points in 9 games, and good enough to punch their ticket.
- Jeff Carter was traded on February 23, 2012. Since that day, the Columbus Blue Jackets have gone 77-59-14, while essentially remaking their entire roster. I'm not a big proponent of karma, but I AM a big proponent of culture change. The day Carter was sent packing was, in my eyes, the very first step toward getting to where the Jackets are today.
- Speaking of culture, do you remember when the Jackets tried to inject Ethan Moreau and Chris Clark into an existing hierarchy of leaders and expected them to "fix" the culture? This isn't a knock on Moreau or Clark, who are both fantastic guys from everything I know about them. But, their task was impossible in that regard. What this team has taught us the last two years is that leadership isn't something you can buy or manufacture; it just has to be there. Slapping a "C" on someone's sweater just because it's what you're supposed to do doesn't make that person a leader, and it's one reason this club has thrived without a Captain and may continue to play without one for awhile. Aristotle once famously said some representation of the line: "Good habits formed at youth make all the difference." With such a young team now, I truly believe we are seeing the manifestation of that belief.
- Columbus has two games left to play, and set the following records last night: most wins in a season (42), and most goals in a season (221). They have two games to grab two points and set the all-time franchise mark for points in season (currently 92).
- Ryan Johansen now has 60 points on the season. It's been three years since a Jacket finished with more than 60 points (Rick Nash, 66 in 2010-2011). Johansen is tied with Nash's goal total from that year at 32, and has a chance to tie or pass Geoff Sanderson for the fourth-most goals in any CBJ season ever (34). Right now he's tied with Rick Nash for sixth-most at 32, and Nash has the fifth-most as well with 33. In fact, other than Sanderson's 34, Nash owns or is tied for the other top five spots on the list. With a goal or two in the final two games, Johansen can climb up that list nicely.
- More on Johansen - he has 32/28/60 on the season, through 80 games, good for 0.4 g/g and 0.75 p/g. However, in the last 65 of those games, he has 28/24/52, good for 0.43 g/g and 0.8 p/g. Even further down, in his last 57 games, he has 26/21/47, good for 0.46 g/g and 0.82 p/g. I guess what I'm getting at is that Johansen has gotten better... and better... and better... and we're just now finally seeing a glimpse of what his ceiling might be.
- Speaking of which, the sample size keeps getting bigger and bigger, and thus more and more meaningful. Sergei Bobrovsky has now played in 95 games for the Blue Jackets, and has a 52-31-11 record, a 2.23 gaa, and a.926 sv%. He's already the career leader in both stats, and is third on the list in wins in just two seasons, one of which was shortened by labor strife. At his current pace, he will catch Steve Mason's lead for wins in just over 80 more games played, which would amount to a little over 1.5 full seasons at his current pace of games played. Mason was never as good as Bobrovsky's been over as prolonged a period. Just sayin'.
- Boone Jenner is just two goals shy of tying the record for goals by a rookie in a season for Columbus (17, held by Nash). He currently sits tied for 6th in goals by a rookie (including being just one behind Chris Kreider, who still qualifies as a rookie somehow). He's also 6th in rookie shooting percentage, and is second in the league among rookies in hits (and tied for 24th overall). I didn't even think he'd last the entire season in the NHL, but he's very quietly put together a solid rookie campaign, and looks to continue to get better.
- To that end, there are only six players on this roster aged 30 or older, and none over the age of 32: MacKenzie (32), Umberger (31), Nick Schultz (31), Fedor Tyutin (30), James Wisniewski (30), and Curtis McElhinney (30). Conversely, the number of players 25 and under is 11. In other words, this isn't a team at its peak; it's a team just discovering how good it can be, and primed to get better.
All in all, I can only say that, if you'd told me at the moment Rick Nash asked to be traded that this franchise would be in the playoffs just two seasons later with almost an entirely new roster, I don't know how I could have possibly believed you. And now, here we are.
It really is something I just can't trick my brain into holding onto long enough to really, truly reflect on it.
That time will come, and I will enjoy doing so.
But today is a day for celebrating. For putting my feet on my desk for a minute or two every so often, leaning back in my chair, and thinking about how awesome it is that the Blue Jackets are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's a day for looking at those two faceoff photos in that sad, lonely picture frame, for thinking about all of the hills and valleys that have passed from that day to this one, and smiling because the journey was so totally worth it.