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2013-14 : It’s In The Books

Last night, the 2013-14 Blue Jacket season concluded last night, with a win over the Florida Panthers.  A game that if they won, they would clinch the first wild card spot, and a date with the hated Pittsburgh Penguins.  Lose, and a possible date with the Boston Bruins loomed.  Ryan Johansen took care of that for the team, netting a power play goal and sinking the Panthers.

This season provided a roller coaster ride of emotions for the fans.  In October the boys went 5-6, which included a 4 game losing streak followed by a 3 game winning streak. In November, the CBJ went 5-11, which included a 6-0 drubbing of the Maple Leafs, and a 7-0 loss to the very bad Edmonton Oilers.

December the Jackets went 7-6.  This month was highlighted by the worst thing that could happen, an injury to reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky.  He suffered a groin injury in a 1-0 shutout win  vs the Tampa Bay Lightning.  A game in which Curtis McElhinney took over and finished out the win.  December also featured an epic collapse by the CBJ.  A game versus the Flyers in which the CBJ were up by 3 goals going into the 3rd period, and lost in regulation.  The Jackets followed that game up two days later, with a 6-3 blow out win over the same Flyers, a game in which was played in Columbus, with Flyer goalie Steve Mason, not playing.  The crowd seems to really want to see Mason play when the game got out of hand.  They seems to really miss his here.

January was the most exciting month of Blue Jacket hockey I can ever remember.  The team went 10-4!  Never before has a CBJ team won more games, earned more points or garnered so much attention from around the league.  It started out with a 2-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.  In that game, Forward Nathan Horton made his Jacket debut, and he dazzled us all with a power play goal, and a smile that infected us all.  January 6th started a streak for the history books.  They beat the Rangers in overtime, and then proceeded to rattle off 7 more wins in a row.  Making January 2014 the most successful month in CBJ history.  During this streak, they beat the Rangers, Canes, Jets, Lightning, Caps, Sabres, Kings & Flyers.  The Flyers game, at home, featured the crowd at NWA again expressing how much they missed Steve Mason by chanting “WE WANT MASON” I thought that to be very thoughtful of our home crowd.  Mason had to have been choked up.

February featured a long boring stretch of the month that included no NHL hockey due to the Sochi Olympic break.  The Jackets did play five games in February, going 2-3.  Not a very exciting month of hockey, but did include a west coast road trip.  Oh yes, one of those pesky west coast trips that rarely yield any points, historically speaking anyway.  They went to Anaheim, LA and San Jose.  They did manage to pick up 3 points, with a win over the Ducks and an overtime loss to the Kings.  Nothing more to see here.

Then came March!  The March to the playoffs was in full swing.  At any given point, there were 6 teams all fighting for 2 division spots in the Metro.  Not counting the Atlantic teams fighting for their positions.  All in all, there were 12 teams all in the hunt for 6 spots in the Eastern Conference.  Along came the trade deadline, and everyone wondered what Jarmo & JD would do.  They decided to trade Marian Gaborik to the LA Kings for Matt Frattin.  They did not make a big splash trade that everyone was wanting, they instead, put their trust into the current lineup and go for broke.   It was fun to watch.  Slowly but surely, teams started falling out of the race.  But not the CBJ, they maintained throughout.  The Jackets went 8-6 in March.  2 games over .500 doesn’t seem stellar, but every point mattered, every, single point!  March featured 6-1 loss to the hands of the Black Hawks, and a pair of wins vs the despised Red Wings.  Losses that sent Wing fans into a frenzy, and had them wondering how they could lose to the worst team in the league.

March also featured a very tragic event in Dallas.  During the game, Rich Peverley suffered a cardiac event.  Prompting the league the postpone the game.  The Jackets were leading 1-0 when the game was called.  The NHL announced shortly thereafter that the game would be played, with a full 60 minutes and a 1-0 lead for the CBJ on April 9th.

April came around with eight games on the schedule.  They went 5-3 in those eight games, highlighted by a heart breaking loss to the Black Hawks with 3 seconds left on the clock.  That loss could have destroyed the season, but instead they responded by winning three games in a row.  They pulled themselves even with the Flyers in points going down to the last regular season day for the Jackets.  The Flyers had one more Regulation or Overtime win, so the Flyers really needed to lose to the Penguins on Saturday, and of course it did not happen.  One thing I’ve learned from my years and years of sports fandom is to never rely on other teams…AT ALL!  With that Flyers win yesterday, they clinched 3rd place in Metro, leaving the CBJ to the 1st or 2nd wild card spot.  The CBJ own all tie breakers with the Red Wings, so all they needed to do was beat Florida to clinch the 1st wildcard.  They won, and with that, a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.

This wasn’t supposed to be a season in which the Jackets made the payoffs right?  No named Captain and no superstars other than #72.  Everyone wondered who was going to score goals?  How far away was this team from actually contending?  How much would the team spend on free agents?  Trades?  All these questions, which even now, that the team is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, still need to be answered.

I do believe this team has garnered enough respect around the league to force other teams to get better.  My thought about my favorite sports teams has always been this – Get good, stay good, and make other teams catch you.  Doing this ensures that you stay competitive and if you play your best game and compete, no one can complain.

Its April 13th 2014 and Your Columbus Blue Jackets are in the playoffs.  Be excited. Be loud around town. Let everyone know who your favorite team is! My favorite team is the Columbus Blue Jackets, and I will not apologize for that.

Ladies and Gentlemen…IT’S JACKETS TIME!

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