The Columbus Blue Jackets played their first regular season game on Oct. 7, 2000.
6,765 days later, the franchise advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. In just under 20 years, this is an organization that has been through quite a bit. Disappointment has basically been synonymous with being a Blue Jackets fan.
It goes much further than a fan base simply experiencing disastrous seasons, though there have been plenty of those. We're talking about a hilariously long list of botched lottery picks, star players who plan and execute trades to get out of Columbus as fast as possible, and GMs who help build Stanley Cup contending teams – but not their own – in lopsided trades. The Blue Jackets have been marred by mediocrity for much of their existence.
Nick Foligno waking back to the locker room: 20 fucking years coming.— Tom Reed (@treed1919) April 17, 2019
This is a town that's watched helplessly from afar as a new expansion franchise (Vegas) is gifted all of the advantages that the Blue Jackets weren't given. It's a city that felt every bit the part of "little brother" as the mighty Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals teams of yesteryear dismantle our hopes and dreams when the going got tough, and worse, invade Nationwide Arena to flaunt their status.
There aren't any banners from hanging from the rafters, in case you hadn't heard. After many years where the franchise wanted to sell hope, but the fan base wanted to buy wins, that time has suddenly come to an end.
In 18 seasons, the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs just five times. Four of those have happened since the end of the Great Recession, but it wasn't until Tuesday night that the franchise had ever advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite the fact that they've been among the most successful regular season franchises in recent seasons, the Blue Jackets do not get anywhere near the national respect that accompanies a blue-blood, "traditional" franchise.
All-Star impending unrestricted free agents like Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin declining to re-sign with the club perpetuate the image that Columbus is anything but a destination city. You've probably heard it before. It's Columbus, Ohio, not just "Columbus". It's a cow-town. A college town. It's in Ohio. What's in Ohio, anyways? And the one that stings the most: it's not a hockey town. Why would anyone choose to spend their career there?
People who live in Ohio, who support this team, know none of that to be true. And soon, everyone else will, too. The year 2019 has been kind to Columbus. The Blue Jackets went all-in at the trade deadline in late February, started playing playoff-like games in early March, and completely blindsided arguably the best team in modern NHL history in mid April. Imagine what this city will look like if the Blue Jackets can continue to inch closer to Lord Stanley's grail.
This win was nearly 20 years in the making. Fans, new and weathered, young and old, hugging, laughing, and crying. 20 years of pent-up frustration. 20 years of waiting – patiently, loyally – for wins and not for the hopeful future. 20 years of pure, cathartic release. And we're just getting started.