Sport: Blue Jackets first-round playoff primer

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From the April 17, 2014 edition

If you were listing “signs of spring in Columbus,” you probably wouldn’t think “Blue Jackets,” but in case you missed it, the Jackets are in the Stanley Cup playoffs for just the second time in the team’s existence.

Jackets fans have even less playoff experience than the team — a first-round sweep by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 meant just two playoff games ever at Nationwide Arena — but this could get exciting.

If you’re a casual fan playing catch-up, here’s what you need to know.

How they got here

For the post-Rick Nash Jackets, this sure looked like a rebuilding year, huh? And yet somehow they managed to set team records in goals scored, wins and overall points — and largely without a couple of key veteran acquisitions, as Nathan Horton and the eventually traded Marian Gaborik were limited by injuries.

The story of the season may be the emergence of 21-year-old center Ryan Johansen. His team-leading 33 goals point to an emerging superstar (and potential franchise face). After a particularly sick shootout goal, Johansen was dubbed “the Superintendent of the Dangle Bus” by ESPN anchor John Buccigross — a nickname I hope sticks.

The Jackets also employed a strategy former coach Ken Hitchcock would be proud of by playing sound defense and scoring by committee, with six other players tallying 15 or more goals.

Oh, and there’s that Bobrovsky guy in goal. That dude’s still really, really good.

How they can move on

With a win in their final regular season game, the Jackets moved up a spot to a playoff matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a tough matchup, but a tough series could be the start of a new Eastern Conference rivalry.

Banged up much of the year, the Penguins are getting healthy at a dangerous time for the Blue Jackets. Their best shot may be a weak showing from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a history of flaming out in the playoffs. It’s not if but when with the Pens offense, so the Jackets will have to show they can answer.

If Bobrovsky proves up to the task — and Fleury does not — this could be a great series. Gentlemen, start your playoff beards.

Dispatch file photo

Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov (42) cannot get the puck past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) in first period play at Nationwide Arena on March 28, 2014.