It has become fairly evident these past few months that the future is bright in Columbus, and now, the pieces are starting to fall into place.
Matt Calvert, who was in the midst of a breakout season in the National Hockey League before suffering a broken finger last week in Los Angeles, inked a new two-year contract extension today and is set up to be part of the Blue Jackets core group in the years to come.
The 23-year-old native of Brandon, Manitoba was a fifth-round pick of former GM Scott Howson and got off to a fast start in 2011, scoring a hat trick against the Phoenix Coyotes and helping the team in a late-season playoff push.
Despite struggling in his second pro season in 2011-12, Calvert went to Springfield (AHL) and was determined to return to Columbus a different and more rounded player. He played a lot of minutes with the Falcons and was their best forward to start this season before the NHL lockout ended, and when recalled to the Blue Jackets in January, he stepped right into the lineup and proved to coach Todd Richards that he could play in all situations and on any line.
One of the most tired cliches used in sports is that of a team playing with a "chip on its shoulder."
Sure, we get what it means (by mere virtue of hearing it repeated so often) but rarely do we see it entrenched in the identity of a team - but quite frankly, these Blue Jackets have played with a figurative glacier on their shoulder.
I often think back to a couple of months ago when the Blue Jackets were a frustrated group, sitting in last place with a 5-12-2 record and on the wrong side of too many one-goal decisions. The few mistakes they made found a way into the back of their net, the margin for error was microscopic and results were few and far between.
But then something changed, something ignited them and galvanized them. And along the way, there are certain moments that stand out as defining junctures.
A week after Jarmo Kekalainen took over as GM, Vinny Prospal scored one of the season's most memorable goals in the final 30 seconds at Joe Louis Arena, giving the Blue Jackets their first win in four games. Their confidence began to swell, and a couple of weeks later, they swept a four-game home stand at Nationwide Arena and began a 12-game points streak that was the beginning of this magical run they're on.
Not long after that it was Jack Johnson, sitting in his locker stall answering questions after one of those wins and being asked by a reporter if he knew this team "wasn't supposed to be winning games" in such a fashion.
"I don't really care what the experts think," he said with a matter-of-fact tone.
As the Blue Jackets embark on their most exciting and anticipated week in quite some time, it's been made pretty clear that they aren't particularly interested in following along with some predetermined fate. They hold a 17-5-5 record in their last 27 games and won four of five games on a recently-completed road trip that encompassed nine days, five games and three time zones in some of the most hostile buildings in the NHL.
It's become less about proving others wrong and more about proving themselves right.
It's not just that they're doing it. It's how they're doing it.
One would imagine that rival Western Conference fans watched intently as the San Jose Sharks erased a 3-1 deficit in the third period and stormed back to tie the Blue Jackets. The Shark Tank was rocking, all the momentum was in the home team's favor and the Sharks looked the part of a team that (pardon me) smelled blood in the water.
But as the Blue Jackets have done time and time again - almost to the point where you expect it - they shrugged off a game-tying goal by Joe Pavelski and got right back to work.
The big-time finish from Ryan Johansen on the game-winner with 97 seconds left in the third period was the cherry on top of a Sunday sundae that was filled with ebbs, flows and turbulence but what happened after the Pavelski goal can't be ignored. Rather than sit back and let the Sharks continue to attack, the Blue Jackets stuck to their guns and got the puck in deep to re-establish their forecheck.
In watching Johansen's goal on replay, the one thing that stands out is the pressure. How many times have we seen teams in the NHL (especially in a playoff race where the loser point is so coveted) lock the doors and get to overtime, making the final minutes of regulation into a good time to change the laundry over? The Blue Jackets weren't having any of it, and sent two men in on the puck, resulting in a crushing turnover by - guess who - Pavelski.
6:30 A.M. -- GAME DAY SUNDAY: Anything better than a beautiful Sunday morning *and* knowing it's a Blue Jackets game day? You'd be hard-pressed to find it, so we're here to get you prepped for a humongous game tonight at HP Pavilion, or "the Shark Tank," as the kids call it.
Tonight's game is the third of three this season between the Sharks and Blue Jackets, and if you need caught up, the first two were convincing wins for Columbus.
Highlights? You betcha.
While most of you were leaving the office and gearing up for the weekend, the Blue Jackets traveled further north from Los Angeles and arrived in sunny San Jose this afternoon.
The good news for the Blue Jackets after last night's loss is they have two full days to rest, recover and get prepared for Sunday's game against the Sharks, which (as the cliche goes) is their next biggest game of the season. After the Dallas Stars got a home-ice win over Vancouver last night, they sit just two points back of the Blue Jackets alongside the Detroit Red Wings which makes the accumulation of points even more imperative.
And coming off a brutal stretch of playing five games in seven days, perhaps rest is the ideal remedy for the Blue Jackets right now. Four of those games were on the road and they played games in four different time zones, which becomes taxing both mentally and physically as this truncated season hits its final furlong.
Coach Todd Richards and his players will have their eyes on tonight's game at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks face the Minnesota Wild in another pivotal game featuring teams looking to solidify their playoff positions. And on Saturday night, the Red Wings travel to British Columbia for a game against the Canucks that will have the full attention of those teams in the hunt.Updates on Matt Calvert's injury, a possible Artem Anisimov return & more inside this post.
6:30 A.M. -- RISE AND SHINE: What, you actually went to sleep?
While you were getting some rest (for whatever reason, your call) after the Blue Jackets' OT win last night in Anaheim, we were getting today's game day blog all nice and pretty for you. Aren't we awesome? Actually, check that -- both #CBJ and #DuckHunt were trending last night in Columbus, so that means YOU are the awesome ones.
The team took a short bus ride north after leaving Anaheim and arrived in Los Angeles around midnight local time. They'll get some rest, take the morning off from the ice and get re-charged for tonight's game against the Kings at STAPLES Center.
But that doesn't mean we'll take the morning off. Bob McElligott, Jeff Rimer and the rest of the CBJ crew are on-site at the team hotel and will bring you the latest updates and player interviews -- all of which you'll find here first.
Stay tuned, and remember...the refresh button is your friend.
Bruce Boudreau knows the Blue Jackets' situation all too well.
When he was called up from the Hershey Bears to coach the Washington Capitals in 2007 after former coach Glen Hanlon was fired, there wasn't a whole lot of conversation about the postseason in the nation's capital. The Capitals didn't have much confidence and their star players were struggling mightily, but shortly thereafter, they caught a spark.
By the time they stormed their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs and instantly became the NHL's feel-good story, Boudreau was in the Jack Adams conversation (an award he eventually won) and the team won its final seven games to capture its first Southeast Division title in seven years.
The Capitals were 6-14-1 when he took over, losing close games, lacking consistency and not at all unlike the Blue Jackets' 5-12-2 record this season before they embarked on this thrilling run that has them entrenched in the playoff hunt.
It's a do-or-die situation every single game, making for intense competition on a nightly basis and a sense of desperation that comes only with a team's season in the balance.
Entering tonight's pivotal game against Boudreau's new team, the Ducks, the Blue Jackets (47 points) are equal with eighth-place Detroit - which plays tonight in Calgary.
6:30 A.M. -- THE PUSH CONTINUES: Top of the mornin' to you, Blue Jackets fans. Are you ready for another awesome game day? We certainly are, and that's why the Game Day blog is fired up early today -- there's a rather significant hockey game going down in southern California tonight, and our job is to get you totally prepped for it.
Fresh off a ridiculously thrilling overtime win in Colorado, the Jackets are equal with the Red Wings (47 points) for the final playoff spot in the West. Detroit has the ROW tiebreaker but not the head-to-head, so points are crucial as this road trip continues.
Before we get going today - the Jackets are scheduled for a morning skate around 2:30 p.m. ET - let's re-live that Foligno game-winning goal because it was just so awesome:
Time and again, these Blue Jackets have proven that doing things the hard way is of no significance to them. Such was the case tonight in Denver, when they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a thriller at the Pepsi Center.
Let's rewind to when we were all slumping our shoulders a bit: a Nikita Nikitin high-sticking penalty put the Avalanche on the power play with just over two minutes left in regulation, and Stefan Elliot's power play tally gave Colorado a late 3-2 lead that loomed larger after the Jackets had a third period lead vanish in short order.
Rather than close up shop, the Blue Jackets needed only 35 seconds to put this game back on even terms and R.J. Umberger's eighth goal of the season might have been his biggest since arriving in Columbus five years ago. A lead pass through the neutral zone allowed Umberger to bust up the middle against Tyson Barrie, and backhand the puck through the five-hole of J.S. Giguere to tie the game 3-3 in the final 90 seconds.
The Blue Jackets' bench erupted, a few moments later, they got another prime opportunity with a power play late in regulation that almost burnt them - but the story of this game was a little good fortunate and a lot of heart. Bobrovsky made a huge save on Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog in overtime and in the final 30 seconds of sudden death, Nick Foligno snapped the puck through (again) Giguere's pads to give Columbus a massive two points in the standings.
1:10 A.M. PLAYOFF CHASE CONTINUES! -- Check out the latest in the Playoff Chase after all of tonight's games have finished up.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
12:00 A.M. RELIVE THE WINNER! -- Here's the highlight of Nick Foligno's overtime game-winning goal against the Avalanche:
11:40 P.M. MORE HIGHLIGHTS! -- Watch highlights of Blake Comeau's first goal as a Blue Jacket and R.J. Umberger's late game-tying goal in the third:
11:37 P.M. -- CBJ 4, COL 3 (OT)!: The Blue Jackets beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in overtime on Nick Foligno's goal to continue the push in the playoff chase! Columbus is now even in points at 47 with Detroit, which currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with tiebreakers.
11:10 P.M. -- MID PERIOD UPDATE: The teams have traded goals here in the final period. Blake Comeau's first goal as a Jacket gave them a 2-1 lead early in the third, but a bizarre sequence at the other end resulted in McLeod's second of the night minutes later. It's a 2-2 game.
10:55 P.M. LETESTU STRIKES! -- Watch the highlight of Mark Letestu's second-period goal for the Blue Jackets tonight:
10:34 P.M. -- SECOND PERIOD ANALYSIS: It's been turbulent at times but the Blue Jackets are in good position entering the third period at Pepsi Center. Mark Letestu answered a second-period goal from Colorado's Cody McLeod to make this a 1-1 tie through 40 minutes, but the biggest juncture was a double-minor penalty kill by Columbus late in the period. Marian Gaborik was caught for high-sticking in the offensive zone and it gave the Avalanche a huge chance to take the lead, but the Jackets' best energy of the game came in that four-minute penalty kill.
9:42 P.M. -- FIRST PERIOD ANALYSIS: The opening 20 minutes were probably bit too wide-open for Todd Richards' liking, but the Blue Jackets had some good energy in the first period. It's a scoreless tie at the Pepsi Center and both clubs had some good opportunities, with the Jackets getting two high-end chances that narrowly missed finding the back of the net. It was a good first from the Prospal-Letestu-Gaborik line, which had some speed off the rush and spent time in the Avs' zone on pretty much every shift.
9:23 P.M. -- MID PERIOD UPDATE: The chances are being traded back and forth in a free-flowing first period in Denver. The Dubinsky line in particular has been skating very well in the early going for Columbus...
6:27 P.M. MORE GAME DAY VIDEOS - Watch interviews with R.J. Umberger, head coach Todd Richards and our Game Day Preview on Jackets TV:
4:32 P.M. -- Bob McElligott has more audio from this morning in Colorado. (CLICK NAME TO LISTEN)
4:08 P.M. WIZ INTERVIEW - Check out this interview with Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski and Bob McElligott before tonight's game on Jackets TV:
2:23 P.M. -- Update...
#CBJ coach Todd Richards says Comeau will be inserted on the 4th line instead of Gillies and Erixon will be the scratch on the blue line— Jeff Rimer (@jrimercbj) April 15, 2013
1:51 P.M. -- FULL LINES AND PAIRS: Here's the expected CBJ lineup tonight in Denver...
1:47 P.M. -- CBJ LINEUP NOTES: Per Jeff Rimer in Denver, the Blue Jackets will be without the services of Artem Anisimov tonight after taking a hit to the head from Charlie Coyle in Minnesota. Colton Gillies goes back into the lineup and will play on the fourth line. Sergei Bobrovsky starts in goal.
1:31 P.M. -- Listen to Boone Jenner's GWG in last night's Springfield Falcons game.
1:27 P.M. -- Bob McElligott has audio from this morning in Colorado. (CLICK NAME TO LISTEN)
TWEET FROM THE STREET
12:03 P.M. -- Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky Named National Hockey League's First Star for the Week Ending April 14
11:45 A.M. -- MARCH TO THE PLAYOFFS!!!
11:28 A.M. -- (NHL.com) Sergei Bobrovsky Sizzling for Columbus
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been looking for a top-flight goaltender since entering the NHL in 2000. In Sergei Bobrovsky, they may have finally filled that need.Bobrovsky's goaltending has been the biggest factor in the Blue Jackets' late push toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He led Columbus to a perfect 3-0-0 showing last week by allowing only three goals despite facing 103 shots -- and that doesn't count the two shootout stops he made in Saturday's 3-2 road win against the Minnesota Wild.
9:00 A.M. -- NHL 14 Official Trailer -- Are you ready for this?
8:30 A.M. -- GAME DAY PREVIEW: Rob Mixer previews the showdown in Denver tonight with our BlueJackets.com game day preview. Get the scoop on tonight's game by clicking here.
7:30 A.M. -- RE-LIVE THE SHOOTOUT: It was a thrilling shootout win over the Wild and the Jackets got big saves from Bob, as well as two sweet goals from Letestu and Atkinson. Check out the full highlight...
6:30 A.M. -- GOOD MORNING, FRIENDS! We're ready for game day and are firing this baby up at the crack of dawn. The Blue Jackets, fresh off a shootout win in Minnesota on Saturday night, flew straight to Denver from St. Paul and had the day off yesterday in the Mile High City. It was a needed day off, too, as the Jackets have played four games in six days and are in the midst of a crucial six-game road trip.
The Avalanche stunned the Canucks on Saturday, scoring with 7.8 seconds left to win 4-3 on home ice. Columbus will have its hands full with a young, skilled team tonight that loves to use its transition game for offense.
Stay tuned to the blog all day long for the latest morning skate updates, photos, playoff chase news and so much more. The game day blog is THE place for CBJ news!