If it weren’t for the Olympics, this could have been the biggest weekend in Blue Jackets history. Imagine if this team — playing some of the best hockey in franchise history — was also playing host to the NHL All-Star Game?
OK, so after losing last year’s All-Star Game to the strike-shortened season, Columbus did get the 2015 game, but how much more buzz would this team be getting? The good news: They look like they deserve it. Here’s the story of the season so far if you need to catch up.
The Jackets came out of the gate sluggish early in the season, but managed to tread water in the standings thanks to a number of unexpectedly weak starts from Eastern Conference teams. But when an early December groin injury was expected to sideline star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for six weeks, longtime Jackets fans knew to turn their hopes away from the playoffs and look forward to another high draft pick.
Then something entirely different happened.
Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney did a fine job of holding down the fort. Ryan Johansen began to emerge as the star the team hoped he could be — his 23 goals lead the team, and he’s just 21.
Then Bobrovsky came back earlier than expected, joined by offseason acquisition Nathan Horton, and the Jackets just started winning. To the tune of a franchise record eight-game winning streak and the team’s best January to date.
Oh, and they’ve done most of this without the offensive firepower of Marian Gaborik, still sidelined with a collarbone injury he got in his first game back from another injury.
Now the team is very much in the playoff hunt — and a win Monday against one of the league’s best teams show they could make some noise if they get in. What happens next?
Stay tuned after the break.