Get your pizza delivered, your chili cheese cony’s ready, and don’t forget those drinks because Columbus Blue Jacket’s Hockey is back! You have the best seat too, your couch, as you watch our players compete for the fourth straight year in the playoffs! The Columbus Blue Jacket’s are only 1 of 6 teams to be back in playoff contention with such a record. Starting Sunday, August 2 at 8 PM the team will begin their best of 5 game playoff run against the Toronto Maple Leaf’s in Toronto.
If you have stepped away from the media, or Just hockey for a while, allow me to catch you up quickly before I continue. It has been 144 days since the Blue Jacket’s have played, due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, which has swept the world with roughly 4.4 million cases and counting. This highly contagious virus put a halt to all sports, but especially those with high levels of contact. Working out a safe way to play has been a challenge, it has taken a long time to perfect testing, safety protocols, and determining which teams made it to the playoffs, due to scraping the remainder of the regular hockey season.
Once this was all set, 24 teams were invited to two host cities, one in Toronto Canada and one in Edmonton Canada. All games will be played in these two cities, from the very start of qualifiers to the final Stanley Cup Game and trophy presentation, with all fans watching from the safety of home. Anyone associated with the playoffs will also be quarantined away from everyone else, in what many sports are calling “the bubble”, unable to leave, as to protect everyone competing. Now that you’re caught up, let’s talk about the exhibition game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins!
The two teams met for a freebie game, just to get back into the grove against men from another team before the games result in staying or being sent home from the playoffs. It was a game full of excitement as many players expected to not play till the 2020-2021 season, had time to recover, due to the long break for the virus discussed above. Outside of Josh Anderson, our main men have returned, which showed tonight against the Bruins. Period 1 had the Blue Jacket’s up 3 – 0. In period 2 the Bruin’s scored once and the Blue Jackets were mainly on the defense with no score. Wrapping it up in period 3 the Blue Jacket’s scored once and the Bruins had no goals. This would lead to a 4 – 1 win for the Blue Jacket’s in a game that may not count in the stats but counts to show the Maple Leaf’s who they are about to meet, as they won their exhibition game Tuesday July 28th, the final score against the Cardinal’s was 4 – 2.
From tonight’s game, I’m positive Joonas Korpisalo will maintain his position as the Starter Goalie for the Blue Jacket’s. He didn’t let a single puck past him in the first 30 minutes of play, this time in all of the first period and half of second to prove himself against an outside opponent. Although Elvis Merzlikins only let 1 goal pass, and a difficult one at that, it was still one, and in the playoffs that could mean going home. Still, this is a very evenly matched group of men for the goalie position, I know many fans are proud, not only to call them both Blue Jacket’s, but also to know they have been renewed for 2 more seasons each with our team already.
Seth Jones shined like the defensive star we know him to be and having him back will no doubt be a credit plus to this playoff pursuit. Tonight he narrowly missed getting his stick on that puck which allowed the Bruin’s to score once, but the rest of his night was stellar, proving the All-Star has returned to the ice. Zach Werenski also had a great night, coming back as well, and just as before the defense is clicking well with both men back.
The offense showed up with those 3 goals in the first period, the group on fire! This is without a major player, Josh Anderson, who did come with the team and is expected to play if the team advances. Tonight he cheered on his team from the sidelines though, but you can see the hunger in him to rejoin his team and score some goals in this unique, never before seen version of the NHL Stanley Cup.
It is a different world, a different version of the game we all know and love. Tonight, it was numbing to not hear the fan’s cheering after a goal, the boom of the cannon, or the hum of a crowd between goals and after a big win. As a kid of any gender, you play hockey for fun in gym class or outside with your friends, you come up with plays, execute with success or not, and cheer each other on because it doesn’t matter. Tonight, we got to hear the struggle to keep plays alive, to have them connect and lead to a score, the effort of preventing the opponent from scoring, and this game didn’t even count. We heard the conflict during arguments and what leads to fights breaking out at times. We heard an honest, true hockey game, and that is something never televised, because there has always been an audience, until now.
You see the sweat on these men’s brow during press conferences during post-game, you hear the strain in John Tortorella’s voice. I feel tonight we understand it a little more than just the physical demand, but also the mental endurance of a sport where anything can happen in 60 minutes. This hour broken into 3 periods where men can be lost to injury, penalties served; no game is ever the same.
What I’m highlighting here, is that tonight, if you didn’t before, I think you appreciate the work these men and coaches put in, just a bit more. The “snowflake” effect if you will, where no two games or days are ever the same, and the joy at seeing one is a piece of normalcy we’ve craved for months now.
I look forward to watching the first round of playoffs with you all, knowing we will all be separated, but also brought together in a way we never have been before. All of us will be watching from home, and it makes me wonder if this makes the players push themselves even harder, knowing we are still with them all the way, from another country away. I know the Tokyo Olympics didn’t happen, and that it would have been the summer, not the winter games. However, this has that same vibe, but again without fans present. It is truly history, something we have never seen before, and something all of us cannot wait to start.