Biggest crowd in franchise history. Biggest opportunity in franchise history. Biggest letdown in franchise history.
Twice in a row.
The Columbus Blue Jackets went up 2-0 on the road against the Washington Capitals – dominating Game 1 aside from one Josh Anderson major penalty that led to two Capitals goals. Sergei Bobrovsky stole Game 2 – or at least stalled enough to give Matt Calvert a chance to win it for Columbus. They came back home with a lead few teams ever choke away, a raucous crowd and a team that looked poised to finally – finally! – get the first round monkey off their backs.
Despite all of that, the Blue Jackets now find the series tied, with those first two games far in the rearview.
Thoroughly out-skated and out-hustled in back-to-back games, the Blue Jackets closer resembled their mid-January malaise than their red-hot home stretch. A flukey pinball-style Capitals double overtime goal vaporized Columbus's chance at the sweep on Tuesday, but the 90-plus minute game two nights prior doesn’t excuse whatever Thursday’s performance was. From the second the puck dropped, the Jackets couldn’t find their legs – or their heads – as they were out-worked and outplayed by the Capitals all night long.
"We didn’t play a good game. We sucked,” said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella after the game. "We laid an egg. That’s all I have to say"
The 2013-14 Blue Jackets – the first squad to ever win a playoff game – had a roster far inferior to this one and played a team far superior to this year’s Capitals. They fell short, but they went down swinging, compensating for their lack of star power with ferocious forechecking and unmatched tenacity. That passion wasn’t there tonight – and it’s anyone’s guess as to why.
“We were like robots tonight, and it’s very unlike us,” said Tortorella.
Not even the biggest crowd in franchise history could snap the Blue Jackets out of their lethargy. They didn't win puck battles, they didn’t forecheck effectively, they didn’t want the pucks on their sticks and they didn't want to move much in their own zone. On the other end, the Capitals kept their legs moving all night.
Last year, Columbus ran into a buzzsaw thanks to a broken playoff seeding system. If they lose this series, they’ll have to own it. Efforts like this are reserved for Tuesday nights in January, not for a playoff game that puts you on the doorstep of advancing.
Simply put, they Blue Jackets going to get a lot of shit for this one. In a market long-dominated by Ohio State, they are finally – after nearly two decades of mediocrity – good enough to deserve it.