The news of this week so far has created a giant hole not only in Columbus, but all across Buckeye Nation. In a normal year, with the season less than a month away, the Buckeyes would be in the midst of preseason camp. The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously erased all those plans, and now many are struggling to try and find something to help take their mind off of the loss of Buckeye football this fall.
While it’s surely not the same, there is a team in Columbus that you can rally around right now. After taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs in a five-game series in Toronto’s own building in the qualifying round, the Columbus Blue Jackets have moved on to the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, where they are battling the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The two teams met in the playoffs last season, with the Blue Jackets stunning the Lightning, who entered the series as winners of the Presidents Trophy, which is given annually to the team in the NHL with the highest point total during the regular season.
Last year’s series got off to a rough start for the Blue Jackets, falling behind Tampa Bay 3-0 in game one, but Columbus staged a furious comeback to stun the Lightning in the first game, and eventually swept the team that was considered the favorite for the Stanley Cup. What was shocking was how Columbus held eventual NHL MVP Nikita Kucherov in check, frustrating the winger so much that Kucherov earned a suspension for game three of the series after boarding defenseman Markus Nutivaara.
This year’s series has already gotten off to an entertaining start, even if game one didn’t go the way Blue Jackets fans were hoping. Tuesday afternoon’s game went five overtimes, earning a spot as the fourth-longest game in NHL history before Tampa Bay was able to earn a victory. Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo set an NHL record with 85 saves in the loss.
Now with game two on the agenda for this afternoon, it is time we turn our attention from the loss of the Buckeye football season and turn into some Puckeyes. In this time where everything around us is falling down, at least we have something that can give us a little bit of normalcy, even though the NHL playoffs this year are anything but normal.
What makes this team so easy to root for is just how hard this team works. Of course every team in hockey will try and claim this, but the Blue Jackets back it up. Just look at defenseman Seth Jones, who played 65 minutes in game one. I probably couldn’t even make it five minutes on skates, so the fact that Jones played over an hour over hockey is amazing to me. Even more impressive considering Jones suffered a fractured ankle in early February after being drilled by a puck.
After losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, and Matt Duchene to free agency during the offseason, nobody gave Columbus a chance to make the playoffs this year. The Blue Jackets got the last laugh on the doubters, as all three of the players who left Columbus have already been eliminated from the playoffs.
This team isn’t flashy like Tampa Bay or Washington, but they play solid hockey that frustrates their opponents, and can even be frustrating for Blue Jackets fans to watch at times. Essentially the Blue Jackets play Tresselball on ice, if you wanted to put the playing style into terms that Ohio State football fans would understand.
The Blue Jackets have had no problem embracing Ohio State over the years. Just look at what Nick Foligno did after the Blue Jackets beat Pittsburgh at Nationwide Arena the night before the Michigan game last year. Foligno scored two goals in the victory and the captain came out onto the ice with an Ohio State helmet on after being named second star in the game.
I’m a little biased for my love for the Blue Jackets since I’m a quarter season ticket holder. I grew up south of Buffalo as a Buffalo Sabres fan so hockey was introduced to me at an early age. There is nothing better than playoff hockey, as Blue Jackets fans have found out over the past few years, as they have finally found a little bit of success in the playoffs.
There are so many things right now that are driving us apart. The upcoming election, our response to COVID-19, the loss of Ohio State football. We need something to bring us together (safely, of course). I’m not saying that Blue Jackets hockey is going to fix anything right now, but at least it can take us away from everything terrible going on right now for a few hours.
With guys like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Liam Foudy, Zach Werenski, and Jones, the Blue Jackets have a tremendous young core, and should be on the rise in the years to come. If we all sit around for the next year and stew about how we didn’t have Ohio State football in 2020, we are going to go mad. Do yourselves a favor and turn some of your attention to this hockey team. Right now they are in the NHL bubble in Toronto away from their family and friends, so they’d love for even more fans in the capital city and around Buckeye Nation to throw their support behind the team.
Fire that cannon, CBJ!