Straight Jackets: New Jackets?
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been playing NHL hockey since 2000. In that time, a lot of crummy things have happened.
Between on-ice results that have not gone its way (starting with running out to a 3-0 lead in the team's inaugural regular season game only to lose 3-5 to the Chicago Blackhawks) to personnel decisions that didn't work out (I won't even say the name of J*ff C*rt*r) to weird occurrences (the Wild's Wes Walz being credited with a game-winning overtime goal when the puck accidentally lodged in his pants as he was being checked by Jason Chimera, a check that landed him — and the puck — in the net), these things became explainable in one way and one way only: because “Jackets.”
I'm not an overly superstitious person, but SOJ (Same Old Jackets) is real, from the team's repeated ability to give up a last-second goal to times when the Hockey Gods had it in for us, like when the aforementioned Je** Ca*te* moped his way out of town only to win a Stanley Cup that very season with his new team. And let's not revisit that the team, until this season, was the only NHL franchise to never win a first-round playoff series.
All of this is to point out that that's a lot of cosmic “Jackets-ness” to overcome in one postseason.
This year's squad did its best. There were many opportunities, even going back to the post-trade deadline skid, for the team to just become SOJ. But unanticipated things started happening.
Instead of crumbling under the weight of expectations after making a splash at the trade deadline, the team rebounded to finish the season on a 7-1 run to earn a playoff spot.
After falling behind the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning 0-3 in Game 1 of its first-round matchup, the Jackets came all the way back to win the game 4-3.
When the Lightning scored early in the third period of Game 3, at least one fan in attendance (no names, but they pen a column in a local pub that rhymes with Date Rackets) was in near-panic mode until Cam Atkinson scored an empty net goal with about a minute to play and disbelief gave way to joy.
In Game 4 of that series, Tampa Bay came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game at 3 and at least one fan had at least the tiniest twinge of fear that the Jackets would lose this game and then somehow lose the next three and remain without a first-round series win. But then Oliver Bjorkstrand happened and then the empty net floodgates opened and it was real and it was good and did that really happen?
Even in the Boston series, there were moments that flew in the face of SOJ, enough that at least one fan kept thinking the Jackets could win Games 6 and 7…
I think the head coach did, too. John Tortorella tested the limits of Jackets-ness after Game 5, guaranteeing a Game 6 win and saying, “We dented their goalie.” A brazen move, but it put the Hockey Gods on notice. Five goal posts were all the Jackets could dent in Game 6.
It was too much to overcome in one postseason.
But it's a start.