Step one: buy the ticket.
Step two: take the ride.
The Blue Jackets' playoff fate was anything but certain in the final weeks of the regular season, which isn't where many thought they'd be after loading up at the trade deadline. But the meteoric rise of the Carolina Hurricanes combined with a Montreal Canadiens team that never went away made things difficult for the Blue Jackets, even with a beefed-up roster that included Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and a rejuvenated Oliver Bjorkstrand.
But now, they can exhale for only a moment because what lies ahead is their biggest challenge yet: a first-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, i.e. one of the best regular season teams we've ever seen.
If you're looking for a reason for optimism, it would be that the Blue Jackets – who were pushed to the limit by the Canadiens – didn't back into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They had to earn their way in and the race for a playoff spot was a back-and-forth, break-neck pace that saw MoneyPuck odds fluctuate dramatically on a daily basis. Columbus didn't have a guarantee or any level of comfort until the "x" was affixed next to its name on Friday night, by virtue of a nail-biting shootout win over the New York Rangers.
|SEASON||FINISH||1ST RD. OPPONENT||RESULT|
|2008-09||2–3–3||DETROIT RED WINGS||LOST IN 4|
|2013-14||5–2–0||PITTSBURGH PENGUINS||LOST IN 6|
|2016-17||1–5–1||PITTSBURGH PENGUINS||LOST IN 5|
|2017-18||1–1–2||WASHINGTON CAPITALS||LOST IN 6|
|2018-19||7–1–0||TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING||TBD|
Take this, for example: the Blue Jackets ripped off five straight wins at the most important point of the season and gained little to no ground, basically jumping into the first Wild Card spot (only to hold it for a few days). Everyone else was winning games, and it required a 7-1-0 clip in the final two weeks to lock down a spot.
The Blue Jackets fought their way into the tournament, which bodes well as they gear up to face a juggernaut Lightning team.
And it seemed like an embarrassing loss in crunch time – a 4-0 egg-laying in Edmonton – would derail the Blue Jackets, but it had the opposite effect. After a team dinner in Vancouver, they went on their run; Columbus won five in a row starting with a 5-0 win over the Canucks to salvage their road trip, then a huge win over the New York Islanders at home before an even larger win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Their lone blemish over the final eight games was a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins last week. And it wasn't without significance, because two points in that game might mean a different first-round opponent (and then you add in the wasted points in two losses to the Oilers).
But at a time when so many are apprehensive about this upcoming series and the long odds facing the Blue Jackets, we at least know this: they're playing better than they have at any point this season, and more than ever, feel like they have something to prove.
Follow 1st Ohio Battery