First, let’s review. When this shortened season began, I (and many other hockey pundits) figured that the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t stand a chance. Here are a couple of my own quotes:
“If you look at the Columbus roster, you might make a joke that they look like an AHL franchise. Their once sensational goaltender Steve Mason looks lost in net since his sophomore season. Their franchise stud scorer Rick Nash has departed, via trade, and they did not get an equal return. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good players, they aren’t the game changer that Rick Nash was.”
“Everyone knows that the Blue Jackets are in serious financial disarray, and the management on the hockey side hasn’t been great either. No, the future isn’t totally bleak for this team. If Steve Mason can recover his game, and get back to the play he showed during his rookie campaign, or if newcomer Sergei Bobrovski can play meaningful minutes in goal, they might have a chance of not being on the bottom of the Western conference, but those are big ifs.”
I’m man enough to admit that I was clearly wrong.
It’s almost unbelievable that the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that everyone around picked to be the bottom-feeders of the conference if not the NHL, is only 2 points out of the playoffs, behind a San Jose team that seems to have finally run out of regular season mojo. Maybe team president John Davidson has the Jackets taking some sort of magical potion that has them playing gritty dirty hockey. Maybe Sergei Bobrovsky really is a competitive starting goaltender, though he certainly didn’t show much of that when he was on the Flyers, when the team was forced to go out and sign Ilya Bryzgalov a full season ago.
One thing is for certain, the Blue Jackets have not lost in regulation in their last 11 games, going 8-0-3. They haven’t been playing the dregs of the league either, collecting two wins against Detroit, and one against Vancouver. Looking at their scoring statistics, 14 players have at least 2 goals. Greybeard Vinny Prospal has 9 goals and 18 points. Whereas those things are not superstar quality statistics, for instance the league leading Blackhawks have gotten goals from all but three of their skaters, the one thing that jumps off the page is the Bob’s 2.05 GAA on the season.
Bobrovsky’s performance in net has sometimes been otherworldly and has earned him a spot in the top 10 goals against leaders, sandwiched between phenom Viktor Fasth and Henrik Lunqvist. It’s mildly ironic that he’s ahead of Lundqvist, since former CBJ Rick Nash is one of Henrik’s teammates.
If the Blue Jackets are going to get into the post season, it will be upon the back of their goaltending. And I’m going to make another prediction and say that this plucky Columbus squad will make it into Lord Stanley’s spring fling. Not to say the Jackets will win the cup or even get close enough for a sniff of its metal, but Los Angeles surprised many by sneaking in as an 8th seed – you just never know.
It seems that all the Blue Jackets have to do is believe – and play very well…there is that, too.
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Photo Credit: PuckDrunkLove.com, CC