Off to a strong start this season, Columbus plays its first game against Detroit on Wednesday night since being swept by its Central Division rival in the postseason.
The Blue Jackets earned the seventh seed in the Western Conference in 2008-09, reaching the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s eight-season history.
Their reward was a matchup with the second-seeded Red Wings, who went on to outscore Columbus 18-7 in winning all four games of the first-round series. Detroit would advance to the Stanley Cup finals, where it lost in seven games to Pittsburgh.
After being eliminated, the Blue Jackets were already looking toward this season.
“We did a lot of things that this organization had never done before. We can pat ourselves on the back a little bit for that and be proud of ourselves,” defenseman Mike Commodore(notes) said in April. “All it does really is raise the expectations for next year. The expectation is no longer ‘Let’s just make the playoffs.’ Next year the expectation is ‘Let’s make the playoffs and make some noise.’”
Columbus appears to be on the right track.
The Blue Jackets (9-5-2) are tied with Chicago for first place in the Central, three points ahead of Detroit (7-5-3). They’ve won two in a row and earned points in five straight (3-0-2).
Columbus needed a third-period rally to come away with its latest victory. Trailing Carolina 1-0 after two periods Saturday, the Blue Jackets scored three times in the first 3:31 of the third to win 3-2 and improve to 4-1-2 at home.
“We’re playing too slow, everything we’re doing is too slow. We have to play faster,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We really played fast in the third period, it was much better (than the earlier periods). We’ve got to move it faster and play faster to the net. We did it in the third period and had success, and I hope we can feed off that.”
Detroit is looking to get back on track after Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Wings entered having won a season-high three in a row and with points in five straight (4-0-1).
It was another poor offensive performance for Detroit, which is 16th in the league with 2.80 goals per game after leading the NHL with 3.52 a contest last season.
“One of the things that’s been fun about being a Red Wing the last few years is that we had the puck all the time,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got the puck a lot (now), but we’re not as dynamic offensively at all.”
The Red Wings, who have outshot the opposition in 11 of 15 games this season, are 1 for 18 on the power play in their last five games.
Hitchcock will become the 16th coach in NHL history to be behind the bench for 1,000 games Wednesday. He’s in his fourth season with Columbus and 14th in the league, winning 520 games with Dallas, Philadelphia and the Blue Jackets.
Including playoffs, Hitchcock has gone 9-15-1 against Detroit while with Columbus.