The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3 tonight at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The two teams looked like they had switched places with one another’s most steretypical image: Columbus was persistent with the pressure, and Nashville looked hapless once adversity struck. The Preds found another gear late in the game and put up a couple of goals to look respectable on paper, but everyone who watched the game knows that Nashville was owned by Columbus until it was too late to matter.
It was the continuation of a trend that’s been going on for nearly three weeks now. On March 1st the Predators were tied with the Detroit Red Wings for second place in the Central Division, owners of a 9-7-5 record and 23 points in the standings after 21 games. At the bottom of the Central sat the Blue Jackets, 5-12-3 with just 13 points after 20 games. In the 18 days since then the two teams’ goalies have been the best individual indicators of their respective fortunes. Sergei Bobrovsky is 7-0-2 in March with a 0.98 GAA and .967 save percentage. Pekka Rinne is 2-4-1 in nine starts, with a highly uncharacteristic 2.83 GAA and .896 save percentage.
The teams entered the night with precisely the same record: 11 wins, 12 losses in regulation, and six overtime losses. The Columbus Blue Jackets emerged with two points to move into fourth place in the Central Division, marking their 11th straight game with a point. The Nashville Predators, meanwhile, failed to earn a point for the sixth time in nine tries this month.
It’s the reversal of nearly everything that has ever transpired between these two teams, both former expansion clubs that have walked very different paths as the years have gone by. Nashville has always been the hard-working team with solid front-office management and a knack for making the most out of limited resources; Columbus, the kid brother, the sure win you could count on to break a bad streak, a team led by a captain who never seemed to have the team’s ear. How times change. With the exception of 2008-09, when the Blue Jackets made their lone playoff appearance, this has always held true before now.
As one fan tweeted to me in the third period tonight:
@predlinesnsh it’s kinda sad in a way. CLB is finally better than NSH, and they won’t be in the same division next year.
— predaceous (@predaceous) March 20, 2013
It would be great to see a true rivalry develop based on actual competition instead of one team just hating the other because they’re tired of being beaten up. Realignment has broken that dream. But I’m still happy for fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ve suffered through terrible ownership and management for far longer than any hockey fan should have to. With a new GM, three first-round picks in the draft, their team on an 11-game point streak, and a new environment in the Eastern Conference next season, there’s a lot for them to be optimistic about. Oh – and they beat the Nashville Predators, too. It’s not quite like making the playoffs or winning the Cup, but it has to be a satisfying start.