Last year, the Lake Erie Monsters raced to the AHL championship, a Calder Cup title that many in the organization have pointed to as one of the boosts for this season's Blue Jackets' success.
Such current Columbus stalwarts as Oliver Bjorkstrand, Lukas Sedlak, Zach Werenski, and Josh Anderson were part of that run, a winning experience that head coach John Tortorella and other organizational leaders have saluted.
Don't look now, but the Monsters could be at it again.
Sunday's 4-0 victory against Iowa in Cleveland was the Monsters' fifth straight victory, moving the team to 32-27-3-4 overall for 71 points (0.538 per game) with 10 games to go in the 76-game slate. AHL playoff spots are given to the top four teams in each division based on point percentage; the Monsters are in a virtual tie with Charlotte for the final spot in the league's Central Division.
A few names familiar to Blue Jackets fans helped spur the win. 2014 first-round draft pick Sonny Milano scored the game-winning goal with a sweet breakaway finish in the second, with Markus Hannikainen – recently re-signed for the next two seasons – adding a goal and two helpers. T.J. Tynan, who made his NHL debut earlier this year with Columbus, also scored while Justin Scott added a tally. In net, Anton Forsberg earned the shutout by turning aside all 37 Iowa shots.
That win came on the heels of Friday's 5-1 victory over the Wild. While it might appear on first glance the Monsters controlled that game, the true star was Forsberg, who stopped 51 shots in the victory. Tynan also scored in the contest while Nick Moutrey had two goals.
"We stuck with them," Monsters head coach John Madden said of the weekend. "We played a good team game both games, and we were rewarded for it."
The two games against the Wild were a big part of a much-needed groove for Forsberg. After a stretch of four consecutive games with a save percentage below .900, he stopped 108 of 110 shots over three starts during the week including a March 21 win vs. Chicago, giving him a save percentage of .981 in that span. Those numbers were enough to earn Forsberg the AHL's Player of the Week honor.
Milano has also been on fire during the five-game winning streak, combining for three goals and three assists in that span, including a two-goal effort March 18 vs. Texas. The 20-year-old leads Cleveland on the year with 37 points on a team-best 16 goals along with 21 assists.
Tynan is second on the team with a 10-25-35 line on the year while Hannikainen is second on the team with 15 goals among his 28 points.
In more good news, reinforcements could also be on the way for the team.
Zaar and Bittner retain prospect status for the team. In 49 games, Zaar holds a 8-19-27 line, and the 22-year-old Swede was a sixth-round pick of the Jackets in 2012. He is in his second season in Cleveland after coming over from his native country.
Bittner, 20, was a second-round pick in 2015 out of the WHL and has been cursed with injuries the past two campaigns and also took a temporary leave of absence earlier this season. In 31 games this year, his first as a pro, the big-bodied forward has three assists.
Broadhurst, 24, has added depth after coming over to the organization in the Brandon Saad trade. He's been a key member of the Monsters the past few years, notching 12 points in 17 playoff games last year and posting a 9-13-22 line in 44 games this year.
The Monsters return to action tonight and Thursday with home games vs. the Charlotte team its tied with for the final playoff spot.