November 5, 2011 was probably a normal Saturday in my life. Probably got up and drank some coffee, did the family thing and got home in time for the Philadelphia-Columbus game at 7 that night. The only reason this night is memorable is because this was the low point for this franchise. They lost 9-2 and my wife asked me why I watched this garbage every night. I had no answer that would make any sense or satisfy her curiosity so I just told her that one day it would pay dividends as a fan. The Jackets trailed 8-0 after 2 periods and Steve Mason was pulled in the 1st after allowing 3 goals on 12 shots. In came journeyman Allen York who was promptly pulled after giving up 2 goals on 5 shots. Here came Steve Mason to give up the final 4 goals and have the dagger stuck deeper in the heart. The franchise would change forever 2 months later when Coach Scott Arniel was fired following another embarrassing loss, this one to Anaheim. Todd Richards assumed control as the interim coach and it was assumed his stay in Columbus would be short. The CBJ were 11-25-5 when Richards took over. The team finished 18-21-2 under Richards and slowly established themselves as a team that would compete at a high level.
Fast forward to April 23, 2014. The Arena District was buzzing, the CBJ were trending on Twitter and there was genuine belief this team could win a playoff series against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens quickly dashed any of those hopes in one of the most impressive 1st periods they played all season. They led 3-0 with 8:50 left in the 1st and some of the energy in Nationwide Arena subsided. But at 16:39 of the period, rookie Boone Jenner deflected a Letestu wrister to make it 3-1 and the party started in Columbus. For the final 2 periods and OT, the Blue Jackets controlled play and slowly imposed their will on Pittsburgh. Dubinsky and company shadowed Sidney Crosby all night and made him an afterthought. When Ryan Johansen tapped in a shot to cut the lead to 3-2 in the 2nd period, Nationwide Arena almost exploded. When Brandon Dubinsky tied the game with 22.3 seconds left in the 3rd it was a certifiable nuthouse inside the arena and set off the biggest party in Columbus in a long time. The party would only get bigger when Nick Foligno scored the OT winner on a weak shot from just inside the blue line. It was the biggest moment in the history of the franchise and long suffering fans felt emotions that ranged from tears to complete disbelief.
On a personal note, I’ve been a season ticket holder and the biggest critic of this franchise for a long time. I have felt more apathy and disappointment then I care to remember for a long time. I consider myself blessed that I was able to sit inside the Arena on Wednesday night to take in the passion and pure joy the fans felt. I’ve never heard NWA louder. I was in the Arena for 20 minutes after the game and no one wanted to leave. C-B-J chants were heard everywhere in the Arena District and it almost felt like the same energy that the fans of this city reserve for a certain school up north after a win. The lead on every TV station and radio in the city was the Columbus Blue Jackets. This was a different excitement that was brewing in the stomach of the city for 14 years and ready to erupt. This was unbridled joy and pure happiness. Will the CBJ win this series? I don’t know and I can’t make any predictions. They might lay an egg in Game 6 and the season could be over by tonight but I have said from Day 1 that this group of players is resilient and doesn’t know that they probably shouldn’t win this series. Whatever happens tonight, the players have awakened a sleeping lion and made the fans fall in love with this team. Join the Battle!Photo credit: NHL.com