One of the most intriguing aspects of this current NHL season was whether or not any of the underdog playoff teams from last year would be able to recapture their success this time around. There’s always postseason parity, but things were different this year. Thanks to the lockout, last season was only 48 games long, leaving many to wonder if any of the surprise entrants would’ve made it in had they played a full 82-game campaign.
We’ve already seen this take place, as teams like the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators are a handful of clubs that clinched postseason berths during last year’s shortened season, but failed to do so this year. However, there’s one team who barely missed the cut in 2013, but finished the job this time.
Last night, with their 3-1 defeat of the Dallas Stars, the Columbus Blue Jackets clinched their second postseason berth in franchise history. With their legitimacy questioned from the moment the puck dropped this season, the Jackets officially proved last year was no anomaly.
It was no surprise some around the league hesitated to label Columbus a contender coming into this year. Sure, they went on a huge run in the final two months of the season last year, falling a tie-breaker short of the playoffs. That said, the team hadn’t shown anything that would imply they could generate the same success in 82 games. At least not until last night. Now, the Jackets are sitting at the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, and there’s still some room to move up if they win their final two games.
You have to give credit to the Blue Jackets front office, especially GM Jarmo Kekalainen, for the work done in the offseason. They could’ve very easily stood pat or made a few minor moves in the offseason, simply maintaining the belief the team was fine as is, just a victim of bad luck. Instead, they made themselves a huge free agency splash by signing former Boston Bruin Nathan Horton. Though he was unable to suit up until December, Horton brought with him the kind of playoff experience this young team needed in their locker room. Then, they locked up Vezina winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to a team-friendly deal, when it would’ve been just as easy to either overpay him or let the Russian netminder walk after failed negotiations.
From there, a team consisting of equal parts veteran leadership and exciting youth went out and showed any doubters that they could indeed replicate last year’s success. Thanks to a number of culprits, including a breakout season from Ryan Johansen, as well as career numbers put up from defenseman James Wisniewski, Jackets fans now get the chance to see a home playoff game for the first time in 2009.
Columbus came into this season with one goal in mind; achieve what they couldn’t last year. After last night, this mission was accomplished. Of course, you better believe nobody on the team is satisfied with just making it to the party. The Jackets are heading to the postseason with the intent of making some noise. Columbus has sent notice out to the rest of the league; last year was no fluke, and neither is this playoff berth.