CBJ Archives: The Robbery of the First Playoff Win

By Chris Pennington on May 4, 2020 at 8:05 am
Steve Mason shakes Henrik Zetterberg's hand after the Columbus Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wins in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jamie Sabau - NHL Getty Images

"By the rule book it's probably the right call. By the circumstances of the game, I didn't like the call."

Ken Hitchcock's postgame comments still ring true to me this day.

I'm sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's backtrack a bit.

The Context

In 2009, after eight grueling seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally made their mark (if you want to call it that) on the hockey world by qualifying for their first-ever postseason appearance. The club's best season to date in posting a 41-31-10 record gave them the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs. 

Unfortunately, they were met by the juggernaut-esque Detroit Red Wings, who had won four Stanley Cups out of the last eleven seasons. Yikes.

I just wanted one win. One single game win. I knew that a series win was out of the question. All I wanted after years and years of turmoil was to see one Blue Jackets playoff win.

After getting outscored in the first three contests by a combined score of 12-2, though, my hopes for seeing that victory grew incredibly slim.

The Game

Hopes grew even slimmer at the start of the next game. After the first period of Game 4 concluded with the Red Wings taking a commanding 3-1 lead, it seemed the dream was officially dead. All was going according to plan.

Our little Blue Jackets just wouldn't go quietly into the night, though. Two quick goals by Rick Nash and RJ Umberger knotted the score at three apiece, and even after Detroit responded with another pair to regain their two-goal lead, Kris Russell and Fredrick Modin tallied some of their own to conclude the second frame with a 5-5 tie. A barn-burner was in the making, that's for sure.

Then came the most important period of hockey in the Blue Jackets' history. Either a sweep was headed their way, or their first postseason victory as a club. High stakes, clearly.

Here's some needed context before we get to the climax of this story, though. After eight penalties being called in the first half of the game, there wasn't a single one called for the second half of the second period and nearly the entire third period. The refs had "swallowed their whistles" if you will, and were letting both teams play their game.

Lots and lots of 50-50 calls were left unpenalized, and the narrative was clear. Don't slash someone across the face, and you won't get called. The refs didn't want to decide the outcome of this one. If you don't believe me, watch this clear-as-day boarding by Dan Cleary on Marc Methot which led to no penalty.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The Penalty

With 1:36 remaining in the contest, the Blue Jackets were whistled for a too-many-men on the ice penalty. Now, we will bring back the Ken Hitchcock quote:

"By the rule book it's probably the right call. By the circumstances of the game, I didn't like the call."

Spot on, Ken.

Jason Chimera, who was jumping on the ice in place of Jakub Voracek, played the puck while Voracek was still entering the bench. By rule, yes, this is probably (clearly I'm still upset) a too-many-men on the ice penalty, but it's a call that completely went against the nature of the game.

Missed boarding calls. Constant penalties let go. It was again, a game where the refs decided to let the players play, per se. But with less than two minutes remaining in a playoff game, they decided to break their mold. 

Almost hilariously quickly, the Red Wings capitalized on the ensuing power play, leading them to an eventual 6-5 win and completion of their sweep. Being a witness at this Game 4, it was also hilariously quick how many beer bottles hit the ice as soon as Johan Franzen scored that go-ahead goal.

It was an absolute zoo in Nationwide Arena. Everyone who had a cheap material object in their hand was hurling it onto the ice. Greg Murray was desperately asking fans to stop. The boos were deafening.

Sadly, there's no footage of this on-ice beer graffiti, but I think I remember it honestly took about 20 minutes until play resumed. To this day I've never seen anything quite like that personally in a sports arena.

Would the Blue Jackets have won that game had that penalty not been called? Not guaranteed. Would they have won any more games in that series? Likely not. But the fact that I had to wait five more years to see the Blue Jackets get a chance at their first playoff win still irks me. Such feeling is the life of a CBJ fan, I guess.

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