For the first time in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets are heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons. With their 5-4 OT loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Jackets secured the final point needed to stamp their playoff passports. It would’ve been a lot cooler if they clinched their playoff berth with a victory over the Penguins, but with the way the season looked at times, I’ll take it.
The boys in Union Blue struggled through the middle of the season but seem to have found their way, going 13-1-2 over the last 16 games. If you would’ve asked me in February if the Jackets would be in the playoffs this season, I would’ve had to think long and hard about it. I probably would’ve said yes because I had faith in some of the veterans picking it up and I would go to war for Torts, but it would’ve been a very tentative yes. Without giving up much, hardly anything at all really, the additions of Ian Cole, Thomas Vanek and return of Mark Letestu have all provided a much-needed deadline spark and completely reshaped the Blue Jackets’ season. Add in Artemi Panarin being an absolute monster (thanks, Chicago) and you’ve got one of the hottest teams in the NHL heading into the playoffs. Did I mention we also have Seth Jones and budding rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois?
Tonight’s game could’ve very well been a preview of the first-round matchup Columbus will find themselves in. It seems all too fitting that they’ll be paired up with Pittsburgh yet again in the playoffs, having already been eliminated by them in 2014 and again in 2017. Truth be told, I’m kind of excited for the matchup. Would I rather play a team that doesn’t seem to have our playoff number? Sure, but until Columbus beats Pittsburgh in a playoff series, no series victory will be very fulfilling (at least in my eyes). I’m not going to sit here and bitch about the new NHL playoff format because it has done wonders for the Pittsburgh and Columbus rivalry, but it sucks to see two of the better/hotter teams in the NHL cannibalize each other in the first round. It’s not just in the Metropolitan either. You have similar scenarios in almost every division. It’s good for the rivalries but doesn’t necessarily play to the idea that the best teams will end up squaring off in the later rounds.
Regardless of who the Blue Jackets get paired up with in the first-round, I’m just happy to be back. There’s nothing more deflating than a disappointing playoff exit followed by a season where you miss the playoffs entirely. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a trend in Columbus hockey and the non-playoff seasons are few and far between. Here’s to hoping the Jackets stick around long enough to give Foligno time to heal and be a contributor on their march to the Cup.
Not to mention, I can’t wait to see what Sonny Milano’s beard looks like.Follow @BennyMacBlog