A moment of reflection:
When I learned that the postseason would resume with a qualifying round, without fans, and in two hub cities, I was underwhelmed.
I understood the reasons why, absolutely. But I couldn't imagine hockey being played in empty arenas. I couldn't imagine not being an in-person part of a playoff run. In short, I thought it would feel lacking.
I was wrong. The National Hockey League has done an exceptional job of creating an environment within the bubble that makes the arena come to life. Fans aren't there in person, but they are tuning in. Social media has given us memorable unity, passion, and of course, plenty of chirps. We're together, as one, while we're apart. This has been far more of an entertaining and competitive postseason than I imagined it would be, and I love how wrong I was.
Of course, it also helps that the Columbus Blue Jackets have given us plenty to smile about over the last two weeks. Let's look back at the top five plays (so far!) by the Blue Jackets from the bubble:
#5: BJORKY BACK ON TRACK
Game 1, Round One vs. Tampa Bay
Let's get this one out of the way now, because it's the only time in this look back we'll revisit a loss.
But this goal was so important, because it seems to have given Oliver Bjorkstrand some needed confidence. After struggling mightily in the qualifying round, this perfectly placed puck by Bjorkstrand briefly gave the Blue Jackets a lead in Game 1 of the first round, before Tampa Bay would tie it and the rest was history. (No, it was actually history.)
While the Jackets would lose that game, they came right back in Game 2 to tie the series - and look who had the game-winning goal for the third time in his playoff career:
#4: GLOVE SAVE (AND A BEAUTY!)
Game 1, Qualifying Round vs. Toronto
Joonas Korpisalo made an NHL-record 85 saves in the first round opener against Tampa Bay.
But it was his save in the qualifying round opener against Toronto that set the tone for this postseason. With the game scoreless late in the second period and the Maple Leafs behind the Jackets net, William Nylander finds Auston Matthews right in front of Korpisalo. Matthews gets a laser off, but Korpisalo makes an incredible glove save to keep the game scoreless. Pay close attention to Matthews face after the save; you can see the frustration oozing through. Without that stop, Toronto takes a lead - and maybe the series.
#3: WENNBERG'S DIRTY DANGLE
Game 2, Round One vs. Tampa Bay
With the Blue Jackets hanging on to a 2-1 lead midway through the third period, Liam Foudy hears Alexander Wennberg's call for the puck as the rest of the Jackets skate to the bench for a line change. Foudy gets a crisp pass off to Wennberg, who shows no fear skating in one against three. He gets to the inside of veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk with a between-the-legs move that opened jaws around the world, and beats Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Blue Jackets breathing room. Columbus wins the game 3-1, and ties the series at one.
#2: LIAM'S LOOKOFF
Game 5, Qualifying Round vs. Toronto
With the Blue Jackets clinging to a 1-0 third period lead in their first deciding game in franchise history, Foudy first does a brilliant job of getting back onsides following a collision with Maple Leafs defenseman Justin Holl. He then moves in as Gustav Nyquist dumps the puck behind the boards. Toronto goes off for a change, not seeing Foudy along the boards. He collects the puck, has only one defender to beat, adds in a look-off to give Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen a brief moment of hesitation, and jams in past him to give Columbus a two goal lead en route to a 3-0 victory. This was just one of many moments that showed Foudy is here to stay.
#1: PLD'S OVERTIME HATTY
Game 3, Qualifying Round vs. Toronto
Pierre-Luc Dubois has been a monster this postseason and is becoming a star in the NHL. No moment was better than this one, though.
After falling behind 3-0 to the Leafs in a series tied at one game a piece, Dubois finds the net to the get the Blue Jackets on the board. Seth Jones scored in the third to make it a 3-2 game, and soon after, Dubois gets his second of the night to tie it up and send the game in overtime.
With less than two minutes left in the first overtime, Alexandre Texier pokes the puck away from Toronto captain John Tavares. Dubois is immediately off to the races. He takes a well-placed pass from Texier and slips it glove-side past Frederik Andersen to give the Jackets the comeback win, a series lead, and their first ever postseason hat trick.