If you’re looking for an underdog franchise to root for in the NHL postseason – which got underway this week – look no further than the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets joined the NHL in time for the 2000-01 season but are playing in just their second playoff series. And they’ve yet to even win a single playoff game, a streak that increased to five losses in a row Wednesday after a late goal by the Pittsburgh Penguins ended in a 4-3 setback.
It’s been five years since Columbus was swept in the opening round of their first postseason trip by the Detroit Red Wings, who later lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the Penguins in seven games. This time Ohio’s only pro hockey team is matched up against the state’s biggest sports-town rival in Pittsburgh.
If that’s not reason enough to make sports fans in Columbus take notice, perhaps learning of the similarities between the two Blue Jacket playoff teams will be enough to satisfy the hockey appetite.
The Blue Jackets turned in their best regular season this year with 93 points (43-32-7), one point better than that 2008-09 playoff team (41-31-10) which was coached by Ken Hitchcock in his second full season. Both teams finished fourth in their division.
Rick Nash had 40 goals and 39 assists for Columbus back then and Steve Mason averaged 2.29 goals against in his rookie season. Nash now plays for the New York Rangers but has never posted the same numbers again, while Blake is having another career year with the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ll face off against one another to open the postseason should Blake recover from an injury in time.
This year in Columbus it’s the 33 goals and 30 assists from third-year pro Ryan Johansen and the 2.38 goals against average of Sergei Bobrovsky, who played for Philly from 2010-12, that have carried the team.
Hitchcock, who coached the Dallas Stars to a championship in 1998-99, is trying to win his second Stanley Cup with a St. Louis Blues team that tied for the third-most points in the Western Conference (111) with the San Jose Sharks.
No. 7 Columbus qualified as a wild card in the East this year, this time with another coach leading the way in his second full season in charge. Both Hitchcock and Todd Richards took over for other coaches during their first official seasons with the team. Richards previously coached the Minnesota Wild, this year’s 7-seed in the West. Dallas is the 8-seed in the West.
But back to Columbus. They hardly stand a chance at getting out of the first round. Not when you consider the five regular season losses they suffered to Pittsburgh, of which only two games were decided by one goal.
All that’s left to wonder, barring a miracle, is whether fans will be happy enough should the Jackets make things interesting by winning a game or two in the series. Historically speaking, it’s the least any loyal sports fan from Ohio can ask for whenever the local team gets matched up against an opponent out of Pittsburgh.