“Tempered” excitement… have we seen this before?

The Blue Jackets are 5-0-2 in their last 7 games and have as many points (12) as they did in the previous 19 games combined…

Remember when Jackets, teetering on the brink of playoff contention elimination, rode on the backs of strong goaltending and opportunistic play by guys like Matt Calvert? When they increased their odds of making the playoffs by an order of magnitude in the double digits? When they went on a tear through the NHL that included a 3-0 shutout win over the Detroit Red Wings?

I of course speak of January & February of the 2010-11 season. Following a loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, the Jackets were looking at a pretty bleak 2.52% chance of making the playoffs. Steve Mason began playing out of his mind in net, posting two shutouts and 7 games of .925+ save %. By the time their run would end, the Jackets playoff chances had climbed all the way up to 29.24%. A win the next day against the Nashville Predators would have improved their chances of making the playoffs to over 40%.

Instead this happened:

Up 2-1 in the 3rd period against Nashville, a goal that was clearly fished “out” of the net could not be determined to have gone “in” the net (yay logic!). What would have put the Jackets up 3-1 instead left the game 2-1 and the Predators would end up scoring twice in the 3rd period to win the game (including a goal in the last 2 minutes, yay Scott Arniel prevent defense hockey!). The playoff chance would drop 10 points down to 19% and never recover. The Jackets went on to lose 7 straight after posting a 11-3-3 record during their run. In all they would only win 3 more games the rest of the season, closing out with a 3-12-7 record including the loss to Nashville. Calvert’s offense dried up and Mason’s save % seemed to go along with it.

As we stand now, the Jackets are on a 5-0-2 run. Bobrovsky is the netminder that’s putting this team on his back with 0.95, 1.00, 0.97 and 1.00 sv% games in 4 of his last 5 outings. Matt Calvert is back in the NHL and is setting the pace for the rest of the team. 13 days ago the #CBJ % chance to make the playoffs stood at a league low 0.39%. Yes, that’s right, less than half a percent. It now stands at 5.5%. While 5.5% is still low, that’s an improvement of over 14x. The road ahead is dark and full of dangers. To have just a 58.3% chance of getting the 8th seed in the playoffs the Jackets will have to finish the season with a 13-6-3 record. To improve that to 95% they have to go 14-6-2. 6 regulation losses in the next 22 games. That’s quite a tall task.

The one thing I think we have going for us that we lacked in 2010-11 is the guy behind the bench. Todd Richards has yet to lose a game when leading after two periods behind the #CBJ bench. The 2010-11 team seemed to lose all of their momentum after losing that game to Nashville. I think this team is learning how to win, but more importantly they are learning how to respond in the face of adversity. We’ve seen it all season long, games that the Scott Arniel coached teams would have given up, this team is fighting back. The Dallas game was a great example, and in my opinion a real turning point for this team. The Jackets fought back from 4 different 1 goal deficits to tie the game every time. They’d ultimately go on to lose in overtime but the heart they showed in fighting back has set the tone for the current streak they are on.

When I looked ahead at the schedule this past Wednesday and saw our next 5 opponents were: Vancouver -> Detroit -> Detroit -> Vancouver -> Chicago, I said to myself “well, guess we don’t have to worry about losing that lottery pick!”. But in the back of my mind I thought, and even mentioned to a co-worker “… if we can win just 3 of those 5 games … we’re going to open a LOT of eyes” Little did I know we would win the first 3 of those 5.

Is this sustainable? I honestly don’t know. The advanced stats guys keep telling me no. But the LA Kings couldn’t score a goal to save their lives in the regular season last year but somehow managed.

To me the two most important factors that will determine how this team finishes the season are: trades made on or before April 3rd and the fact that 12 of the next 22 games are on the road including a dreaded 6 game road trip to California in the final 7 games of the season. After this upcoming 5 game home-stand, we’re only back in Nationwide Arena for 5 of the final 17 games. Going to be very hard to only lose 6 games.

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