It took 81 games and a whole lot of uncertainty, but the Columbus Blue Jackets are playoff bound for the third straight year.
Nothing has come easy in Ohio this season. Even in the clincher, a 3-2 shootout win against the New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets had to come from behind against a team nowhere near the playoffs, watch as said team tied the game with an empty net and six seconds left on the game clock and then endure a nailbiting overtime period before taking it in the lottery round.
But none of that really matters now. Columbus is in.
After choosing to go all-in and forgoing any return on investment with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
After selling off part of the farm and nearly their entire 2019 NHL Draft for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and others.
After Bobrovsky’s struggles and weird absences and benchings (allegedly).
History cares little about how you made it, only that you did.
And now all that matters is what the Blue Jackets do now that they’re in. In their 18-year history as a franchise, they’ve played just 21 postseason games. You can do the math, but it adds up to no series wins in that time. They’ve never made it out of the first round and will be in tough once again, regardless if they finish in the first wildcard, which they can do with a win tomorrow and a Carolina loss, or the second wildcard, which they currently own after eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in Friday’s win.
There will certainly be extra incentive to put in a good performance on Saturday in the second game of a back to back. The prospects of playing the Tampa Bay Lightning if they finish in the second wildcard seed aren’t good.
Playing Washington, and having a chance to exact some revenge after last year’s debacle, would be preferred because, a) it’s not the Lightning, and b) there’s that extra motivation for retribution (but mostly a).
Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t make all those moves in late February for the rollercoaster to end in Round 1. He’s got too much skin in the game.
Now it’s time to see if all that pays off.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck