Blue Jackets race toward playoffs

Ohio's only NHL team looks to make the playoffs for only the second time in their 14 year history.

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For only the second time since it was founded in the NHL in 2000, the Columbus Blue Jackets are on their way to the playoffs. Last year, the Blue Jackets were eliminated on the last day of the NHL’s regular season, and have come back even stronger this year. Currently the Jackets have been tightly holding onto a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference ever since they struck gold with an eight-game winning streak right before leaving for the Olympic break in January.

There are many reasons why the Jackets have had so much success this year compared to other years. One reason is that this year’s team is almost the same as last year’s team. Last year the Blue Jackets dreams of making the playoffs were crushed when the Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche, pushing the Jackets right out of a playoff spot. Despite not making the playoffs, the last month of the season was very positive for the Jackets. Their record was the second best in the NHL and only lost three games out of 12. At the start of the season they still had the core group of guys that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen put together, minus a few key players such as the retired Vinny Prospal, who led the Jackets in points last year.

One of the greatest attributes for the recent success in Columbus is the consistent performance of their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. The Russian net minder from Novokuznetsk, Russia and was acquired by the Blue Jackets in a trade with the Philidelphia Flyers, a team who has been struggling to find a fit in net for years. The Blue Jackets acquired him for virtually nothing and only had to give up two fourth round picks to acquire him. Little did the Flyers know that one year down the road that Bobrovsky would advance his performance at such a dramatic rate. Last year Sergei Bobrovsky won the NHL’s Vezina Trophy, which is voted on by the team’s General Managers and given to the best goalie of the year. Bobrovsky was the first goalie to ever win this award without making the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets are a very young team in the NHL. The average age of the team is a measly 26 years old. The team relies on their older players for a voice of reason and experience, while the team is also led by example through its younger members. Ryan Murray, who was drafted second overall by the Jacket’s in the 2012 is already playing like a top-4 defensemen as a 20 year old.

The potential the team possesses is also displayed through the execution and play of 21 year old center, Ryan Johansen. Johansen is finally heading toward the peak of his ability. While many critics said that Johansen was the worst of the top-5 draft picks in 2010, this year he is proving them wrong. Johansen is statistically one of the best players on the team this year with 30 goals and 25 assists in 76 games. With his uncanny ability to win face-offs, and his natural ability to rack-up points, one can only imagine the damage he can do a few years down the road, let alone the playoffs.

Another driving force behind the Jacket’s recent success is the coaching ability of Todd Richards and his assistants. For the past few years, the Jackets have played a blue-collar style of hockey and attempted to win games with their powerful work rate due to the lack of individual skill the team possesses. With the roster this year, this style of play is more effective than ever. Much of the success of the Blue Jackets can be credited to the great coaching on the team.

The Blue Jackets are currently holding tightly to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, which also gives them possession of the last playoff spot in the East. While many fans of the team right now may just be satisfied with a run in the playoffs, many others believe the possibilities are great and that despite their spot in the standings, they can power through their opponents by out working them.