The Hockey Writers
“It’s franchise fitting, really. It’s only fitting that Nash scored the biggest goal in the history of the franchise. It’s scored by your captain, by your best player at the most opportune time. To me, it’s fitting for Rick Nash, for his legacy, for this franchise.” ~ Ken Hitchcock
That goal, scored with 5:30 remaining in the 3rd period, gave Columbus that one point needed to secure their first playoff appearance in franchise history. No longer will they be known as the only active team to have never made the post-season. There is no statistical category for “heart”. But this team has that in spades. One short year ago, they would have played out the string and picked up their golf clubs. What a difference a year makes. An off-season makeover by GM Scott Howson. The emergence of some of the leagues best rookies. A captain who has gone about quietly showing the leadership this team was lacking in previous seasons. All of this adds up to a team with enormous heart and showing tremendous mettle.
The coach said months ago that this would come down to the last week of the season and he was correct. Columbus can finally catch their collective breath and no longer wonder “what if?”. They are now contestants at the dance. The only downside to the celebration is that late owner John H. McConnell is not around to experience this. He was the Blue Jackets biggest fan. He believed that Columbus should have an NHL team so strongly that he shelled out $80 million of his own money to bring the franchise here. Somewhere up there, with a CBJ hat on his head and trademark cigar in his hand, he’s smiling down on the team today. Said captain Rick Nash of “Mr. Mac”; “I wish he was here to watch, but I’m sure he’s watching somewhere”.
How fitting is it, that eight years after playing Chicago in their first game as a franchise that they would beat the Blackhawks in a shootout to clinch their first post-season berth? I know I was not the only person to wonder what Ken Hitchcock was thinking when he had Fedor Tyutin skate second in the shootout. In five years playing in the NHL, he’s never been a participant in the shootout. To put this in perpective, the NHL shootout record went 15 rounds between the Capitols and the Rangers on November 26, 2005. Tyutin was a member of that Rangers team, but did not get his chance in the shootout. Fast forward to last night. Tyutin puts his shot high, stick side to score the only shootout goal on either team, giving Columbus a 4-3 SO victory over a tough Chicago team. By getting that second point, Columbus has only to score one point in their last two games to lock-up 6th place.
The Blue Jackets have shown that they have the fortitude to play competitive hockey with any team out there. There’s really no telling how deep they will go in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Heart and mettle have got them this far. How much farther can they go? The team has carried the flag all season. Columbus, it’s your turn to “Carry The Flag”.