There are few things in the world better than playoff hockey. Unfortunately, as a Blue Jacket fan, I’ve only gotten to experience the feeling a limited number of times, and never beyond the first round. This is the year that all changes though. The Blue Jackets will give me something I’m really not used to as a Cincinnati sports fan: a winning postseason.
I know what you’re saying. “Oh Mac, you’re just being optimistic again like you always are, hoping for the best but never expecting the worse”. You obviously don’t know me. I fully expect my teams to lose every single time they step onto the field (or ice). Until the clock strikes 0:00 and all chances for a video review are exhausted, I still don’t believe my team has won. It’s a miserable life to live, but someone has to. Right?
The Cincinnati North Blue Jackets start their path to the Stanley Cup tonight in Washington, D.C. where they’ll battle Alexander Ovechkin and a backup goalie in the first game of a 7-game series. It’s a breath of fresh air to start off the playoffs with someone other than the Penguins, which was the case in their previous two trips to the postseason. The Jackets have been in the playoffs three times before this season. The first time they made the playoffs, they got matched up against their long time big brother in the Western Conference’s Central Division, the dreaded Red Wings. Season after season Detroit fans would invade Columbus (aka drive in from the Columbus suburb they lived in) and make it seem like Nationwide Arena was Joe Louis Arena (RIP). Ever since they realigned the conferences/divisions in the NHL, the Jackets have found their new proverbial thorn in the side in the Pittsburgh Penguins. They check all the same boxes the Detroit Red Wings had in the early Jackets’ years: division foe, superstars that somehow don’t regress with age, and a bandwagon fanbase that “have been Penguins fans since they were 3 years old despite growing up in Columbus”.
I understand that there are a lot of diehard Penguins fans that are legit fans, but when you used to be a season ticket holder while living in Columbus (not to brag, but sup), you saw a lot of things that would lead you to believe that’s not necessarily the case with the fans showing up in Columbus.
*Steps off soapbox*
This series brings me hope as a Blue Jackets fan. The Capitals are the Bengals of the NHL in the sense that they always seem to have all the pieces in place, but they screw it up year after year. Its eerily similar to the point that I wouldn’t be shocked if I saw Vontaze Burfict on skates tonight, but he’s probably prophylactically (not condoms) suspended from the NHL too. This is the first time where I’ve entered a series and could see the Jackets advancing. I had hope the first two times they played the Penguins, but in my heart of hearts, I knew it wouldn’t be the Jackets advancing onto the second round. Everything seems to be coming together at the right time for Columbus to win the franchise’s first playoff series.
The young guys who were on the Blue Jacket teams that lost to the Penguins in 2014 and 2017 are now veterans that have mentored a batch of superior young talent like Zach Werenski and Pierre-Luc Dubois. They even have young talent that they somehow acquired from other teams (I’m still trying to figure out what Chicago and Nashville were thinking) in the likes of Artemi Panarin and Seth Jones. Bringing Mark Letestu back for a second tour of duty (no stolen valor, my apologies if this offends) was sneakily one of the best moves Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson made this season. Sure, Ian Cole and Thomas Vanek were huge pick-ups, but Letestu is the type of guy every championship team needs. He kills penalties, wins key faceoffs, and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work by fighting for pucks in the corner. Championship teams have a great balance of young-upcoming talent, gritty veterans and key deadline acquisitions. All of those things exist on the Jackets, and it might be the first time I can say that as a Blue Jackets fan.
Going into the postseason with even the slightest bit of confidence is something I haven’t felt since the 2012 Reds season. You know, the year the Reds blew a 3-0 lead in a five-game series. A series in which they won the first three games on the road. You don’t? Right, me either. Even that season, coming back to Cincinnati up 3-0, just needing to win one, I had my doubts. And I was right.
I don’t see that with this Blue Jackets team and that scares me. I don’t know how I would react to a successful cup run; one that results in a parade in the streets of Columbus. I’m sure I’d be numb at first, but then I’d probably black out at which point I couldn’t be held responsible for my actions. I won’t worry about that now, though. We’ll cross that bridge
when if it comes. Until then, I’m going to sit back, relax, and watch the Capitals do what they do. At least this time I’ll be on the right side of history.
Jackets in 6.