Since their inaugural season in 2000-01, the Columbus Blue Jackets have played in 1,037 games. That includes five in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all of them losses.
Game No. 1,038 was Saturday night.
Three periods and two overtimes later, and the Columbus Blue Jackets finally received a stamp of validation as an NHL franchise.
The first playoff win. The first time a Columbus Blue Jackets player was mobbed by his teammates as a postseason hero. The first time a series shifts back to Nationwide Arena with the Blue Jackets not facing a deficit. The first time a Columbus Blue Jackets fan wakes up the following morning – Easter Sunday, of course, because the “coming back from the dead of Game 1” allegories couldn’t be more on-the-nose – with that insatiable notion that creeps into the minds of every hockey fan in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
“We might actually do this.”
Matt Calvert played the hero, scoring two goals in the game including the definitive one at 1:10 of the second overtime on Saturday night at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here's his shorthanded goal that cut it to 3-2, a goal Coach Todd Richards said was "the difference maker in the game. It gave hope to our guys."
And here's the OT game winner at 1:10 of the second extra session.
"It’s unbelievable. I think every year of my life I’ve watched NHL playoffs and you always dream about being the hero in OT," Calvert told Aaron Portzline.
Three Penguins to the right of Marc-Andre Fleury and one behind him, and no one could prevent Calvert from taking his own rebound and elevating it home for the game winner. But that was symbolic of the game: The Jackets pushing just a little harder in the offensive zone, doing just a little more on every shift to make a difference.
Look no further than Brandon Dubinsky, who set up the goal. He continued to hound Sidney Crosby, throw his body around and pepper the opposing net with nine shots. He was one of several Jackets that were wrecking balls in the offensive zone; the young duo of Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner, for example, were terrors in the corners and behind the net.
Dubinsky and Mark Letestu were also essential in another facet of this one: Versus the Penguins power play, which won Game 1 but went 1-for-8 in Game 2, including two missed chances in overtime. Dubinsky was 6-for-11 on defensive zone draws for the game, including 4-for-4 against Evgeni Malkin. Letestu was 10-for-12 on draws overall and 6-for-8 in the defensive zone, including 4-for-5 against Crosby.
You can’t score if you don’t have the puck. The Penguins have 11 shots in 14:59 of power play time, but was a dismal 3-for-14 on power play faceoffs. Meanwhile, Columbus went 2-for-5 on their power plays.
The Penguins can’t be happy with this one, knowing that a knockout blow could have been landed here. They had power play chances. They had a Columbus defense that lost Fedor Tyutin to injury after just 6:55 of ice time. They had another above average performance from Marc-Andre Fleury. They had Sergei Bobrovsky shaky in the first 20 minutes, and they twice had 2-goal leads over the Jackets on their home ice.
But now, thanks to Calvert, they have a series.
And Columbus, for the first time in franchise history, has a playoff win.
With the expected mix of Penguins fan invaders and Blue Jackets loyalists, the atmosphere at Nationwide Arena is going to be unprecedented chaos for Columbus. It’s going to be loud, angsty and tense.
It’s going to feel like playoff hockey.
And it only took 1,038 games to get there.
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