Tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets will try to make NHL history. With a win in Washington, they’ll tie the 1992–93 Penguins for the longest win streak the league has ever seen. It would be their seventeenth straight win, a stretch that dates all the way back to November.
Nothing in that opening paragraph makes any sense.
Really, go find a time machine and travel back to October and show that paragraph to the first hockey fan you find. They’ll have you committed. We’ve been trying to figure all this out for weeks without much success, but we know this much: This win streak isn’t just one of the best stories of the season—it’s one of the most unexpected stories of the last decade or two.
So how did we get here? How did a team that nobody thought was much of a threat to even make the playoffs suddenly wind up in the same conversation as Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr‘s mini-dynasty? How did a team that looked like a disaster early on manage to do something that the late-’70s Canadiens and mid-’80s Oilers never came close to?
The only way to make any sense of it is to relive it. So today, let's go back through the Blue Jackets' last 16 games and try to figure out what happened.
Game 1: Lightning at Blue Jackets (November 29)
Setting the scene: Tampa comes to town one point up on Columbus in the hunt for one of the East's lower playoff spots. The Blue Jackets are overachieving at 11-5-4, but they've lost three of their last four to drop to fourth in the Metro. They're one point up on New Jersey.
What happened: The Blue Jackets dominate, outshooting the Lightning 38–27 and pumping five goals past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Final score: Columbus 5, Tampa Bay 1
Notable moment: Josh Anderson's third point of the night is an assist on a Scott Hartnell goal that makes it 4–0 and seals the easy win.
Postgame quote: "It's fun to be around this team now in this locker room. I'm enjoying every moment." – Sergei Bobrovsky. May want to pace yourself a bit there, Sergei.
What NHL fans were thinking: "Oh cool, the Predators won tonight. I bet those guys are ready to go on a run."
Game 2: Blue Jackets at Avalanche (December 1)
Setting the scene: The Blue Jackets get a rematch against a team that had beaten them the week before.
What happened: Columbus blows a 2–0 first-period lead, but gets a goal by Boone Jenner midway through the third to eke out a road win.
Final score: Columbus 3, Colorado 2
Notable moment: Blake Comeau scores what looks like the tying goal with two minutes left, but it's waved off after a replay review.
Postgame quote: "A lot of crazy things are going to happen during the year, as far as winning and losing." – John Tortorella. He wasn't wrong.
What NHL fans were thinking: "Huh. I guess Tortorella might not be the first coach fired this year after all."
Game 3: Blue Jackets at Coyotes (December 3)
Setting the scene: Columbus continues its tour through the bottom of the Western standings with a trip to Arizona.
What happened: The Blue Jackets thoroughly dominate with 60 shots on goal, but Mike Smith nearly steals one. He makes a franchise-record 58 saves, but the Blue Jackets get the win in the shootout.
Final score: Columbus 3, Arizona 2 (SO)
Notable moment: The Blue Jackets get a 90-second 5-on-3 in the third period but can't score, which is basically like seeing Superman struggle to open a jar.
Postgame quote: "I thought we stopped shooting the puck (in the second period)." – Tortorella. "I must have missed that part," replied Smith, probably.
What NHL fans were thinking: "Wow, 60 shots? That's impressive. But let's see them do it against someone other than the Coyotes. Who's their next game against?"
Game 4: Coyotes at Blue Jackets (December 5)
Setting the scene: In a rematch, the Blue Jackets return home in search of the franchise's 500th win.
What happened: Sam Gagner has two goals and four points to erase an early Coyotes' lead, and the Blue Jackets cruise to an easy victory.
Final score: Columbus 4, Arizona 1
Notable moment: The Coyotes challenge the third Blue Jackets' goal for goalie interference, but it's allowed to stand after review.
Postgame quote: "We were a little sluggish early." – Gagner. He's either referring to the first period, or the franchise's first decade.
What NHL fans were thinking: "Wait, why are the Coyotes and Blue Jackets playing a home-and-home? Everything OK, NHL schedule-maker? Anything you want to tell us?"