About three months ago, I bragged on Twitter that the Columbus Blue Jackets were a playoff team. Few failed to believe me, but on Wednesday night the Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1 and clinched a playoff berth for only the second time in franchise history. But why did I believe that they could make it to the postseason and how did they do it?
Well I can answer both of those questions with two words: Sergei Bobrovsky.
It’s only right that Bobrovsky was absolutely stellar in the game that clinched a spot in the playoffs because he has been the entire reason why the Blue Jackets will be playing hockey in late April. Remember, the Blue Jackets started Wednesday night’s game with a 1-0 lead because it was a make-up game for the horrible incident that happened to Rich Peverley. The Jackets would score two first-period goals and headed into the locker room up 3-0.
With Bobrovsky in net, that’s honestly all the goal support you’re ever going to need.
Stars head coach Lindy Ruff tried everything he could in order to get a puck by Bobrovsky, which included pulling his goalie with over 11 minutes left to play. You read that right, Ruff pulled goaltender Tim Thomas with over 11 minutes left in the third period. What made things worse is the Blue Jackets took a penalty and were forced to defend a rare 6-on-4 scenario, which led to the only goal the Stars would put behind Bobrovsky all night.
With just under four minutes remaining, Ruff pulled Thomas again and the onslaught that would be the last few minutes of the game forced Bobrovsky to make save after save in order to keep the Jackets on top. When the final buzzer sounded, Bobrovsky had 33 saves – 17 of which were in the third period. The Blue Jackets played arguably their worst period since the Olympic break in the third period, but Bobrovsky bailed them out. They only registered two shots in one of the biggest periods in franchise history, but it didn’t matter when they had a stone wall standing in between the pipes.
The Blue Jackets are young, inexperienced and perhaps overwhelmed by their accomplishment, but they need to begin to focus on playoff hockey, which begins April 16. They don’t have a lot of time to prepare and they are most likely going to face either the Boston Bruins or the Pittsburgh Penguins – two proven NHL powerhouses.
When Columbus made the playoffs in 2009, they entered as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and appeared that they were just happy to be there. They looked scared, timid and were completely ineffective against the Detroit Red Wings, which led to them being swept in four games. Their return to the playoffs is a historic one, but they need to enter the postseason with an attitude that they belong if they want to avoid embarrassment once again.
If they face the Bruins or Penguins, who they were a combined 0-7-1 against in the regular season, it will be Bobrovsky that needs to be stellar, but their young talent needs to step up as well. Ryan Johansen will need to play like he’s a 10-year veteran and not a 21-year-old kid.
The playoffs are a whole different atmosphere and a completely new type of hockey that Columbus isn’t used to playing, but at least they’re there. Once you’re there, anything can happen.
Rejoice Blue Jackets fans; your boys have done it.