They say that the games don’t matter if you’re out of the playoffs.
This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Every game matters, no matter what time of season it is. Even if your team is out of the playoffs, they can leave a lasting impression on those who played them.
Enter the Columbus Blue Jackets. By the time the month of March came, they were way back in the standings. The playoffs were all but gone. There wasn’t a whole lot to play for. Many even were hoping that Columbus would tank the season in the hopes of getting a higher draft pick.
Then out of nowhere, just like a spring storm, the Blue Jackets started a storm of their own. It was sudden. It was unexpected. It caught some teams off guard. It came with very little warning. Those that were unprepared for the Columbus storm, were left damaged. Some were so damaged, that it altered their playoff fate.
When the dust had finally settled, Columbus stormed through the league, finishing March and April with a record of 16-4-1. The damage they left was widespread.
All told, there were 4 playoffs teams that got their position altered in a negative way as a result of the spring Columbus storm. Had those teams taken care of business, they’d be in a better position going into these playoffs. Instead, they will now have to make the best of it from a worse position. In each case, the teams Columbus beat needed either 1 or 2 points to gain a higher playoff position. Let’s now review which teams were left damaged by Columbus.
The Chicago Blackhawks
In recent history, Columbus has not enjoyed much success against Chicago, especially at the United Center. After securing a 5-3 home win on March 24th against the Anaheim Ducks, the Blue Jackets hit the road for a doozy of a back to back. First up was the Blackhawks on March 27th. Chicago was fighting for position in the playoff race. It was a big game for them.
So what happens? Columbus scores 4 1st period goals on route to a 5-2 victory. Remember too that the Blue Jackets beat the Blackhawks earlier in the season at Nationwide Arena. There’s 3 points Chicago didn’t have. They finished the season just 2 points back of Nashville. Had the Blackhawks taken care of business, they’d have home ice advantage in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators.
The St. Louis Blues
After crushing Chicago, Columbus headed down I-55 to meet the St. Louis Blues. The Blues, in a similar position to Chicago, was playing for their playoff position. St. Louis sure wasn’t going to look past the Blue Jackets this time. Nope. Not after a 7-1 thrashing they took in Columbus back in February.
Once again, Columbus started strong, played an outstanding game, and walked out of there with a 4-2 victory. Now St. Louis finished a great regular season with 109 points. But, they lost out on a tiebreaker to Anaheim. As a result, the Blues have to play the Wild, while the Ducks get the Jets.
If both the Blues and Ducks make the West Final, the Ducks get home ice advantage. Had St. Louis earned 1 point in either game against Columbus, they would have won the West instead. The Columbus storm did major damage in the Midwest.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
Who saw this one coming back in November? The Penguins, a perennial playoff visitor, fell on very hard times. Thanks to numerous injuries and some bad luck, their playoff lives were at stake. A trip to Columbus in April sure didn’t help them any.
Although the Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets came storming back. Thanks to a hat trick by Nick Foligno, Columbus erased the deficit, and won going away. As it turned out, the Penguins made the playoffs thanks to a win on the last day of the season against lowly Buffalo.
The Penguins got into the 2nd wildcard spot, and a date with the President’s Trophy winning New York Rangers. Had they gotten 1 more point, they’d have an easier matchup with Montreal, who could be without Max Pacioretty. And yet, the biggest blow was still yet to come.
The New York Islanders
The Islanders came into April on a little bit of a down turn. As a result, their sights were set on finishing 2nd in the Metro. They, like Pittsburgh, had a date at Nationwide Arena. The Islanders played well in that game, going up 3-1 early in the 3rd period.
But just like everyone else of late, Columbus stormed back to tie it. Then they won it in a shootout. The Islanders got a point there. No big deal, right? Think again.
It was the last day of the regular season. The Islanders saw that the Capitals had lost earlier in the day. A win gives them home ice advantage in the 1st round against the Capitals. It was also the last regular season game at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders had all the momentum.
That was, until Columbus came storming into the coliseum, with all the confidence in the world. Once again, the game goes to overtime. All the Isles needed was the 2nd point. It didn’t happen. Columbus denied the Isles for the 2nd time in 9 days. This time, it gave the Washington Capitals home ice advantage in their series with New York.
Columbus Left Their Mark
By the time the dust had settled, Columbus left plenty of damage to go around. It didn’t matter who they played. They played hard. They played with confidence. They didn’t back down. They played to win. Columbus successfully stormed through the league, and left their imprint on the shape of these playoffs.
This is another lesson in never giving up. Although Columbus was playing for pride, their impact on the end of the season was felt everywhere. It’s this kind of attitude that defines hockey. Teams should learn from what the Blue Jackets did from March 1st on. Though it might not seem like much, any game can alter the course of history. For the Blackhawks, Blues, Penguins, and Islanders, their games with Columbus helped alter their playoff path. Let’s see what happens next.