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?”
Game 5: Blue Jackets at Red Wings (December 9)
Setting the scene: The Blue Jackets are back in action after a three-day layoff that sees them drop back down to fourth in the Metro, behind the surging Flyers.
What happened: For the first time in 10 games, the Blue Jackets are outshot. But Bobrovsky plays well, Lukas Sedlak scores his first career goal and Gagner has another multi-point game.
Final score: Columbus 4, Detroit 1
Postgame quote: “I didn’t think we were all that good tonight.” – Tortorella. Yeah, you guys are terrible.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Hey, is this Sam Gagner kid who’s lighting it up in Columbus related to the Sam Gagner who once scored eight points for the Oilers and then disappeared forever? Like his nephew or something?”
Game 6: Islanders at Blue Jackets (December 10)
Setting the scene: For the first time in nearly three weeks, the Blue Jackets play on back-to-back nights.
What happened: A tired Columbus squad struggles through two periods, then explodes for four unanswered goals in the third period.
Final score: Columbus 6, New York 2
Notable moment: Gagner is so hot he gets bored and starts backhanding goals into his own net.
Postgame quote: “Positive feelings are contagious.” – Jack Johnson. I just like this quote because it sounds like the first line of a terrible Justin Bieber song.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Wait, what do you mean it’s the same guy?”
Game 7: Blue Jackets at Oilers (December 13)
Setting the scene: After a string of games against struggling teams, the Blue Jackets finally get a stiffer test against the Pacific-leading Oilers.
What happened: Edmonton strikes first, but the Blue Jackets use yet another big third period to secure the win.
Final score: Columbus 3, Edmonton 1
Postgame quote: “It really wasn’t a penalty, so you end up killing it off. The hockey gods kind of help you there a little bit, and it gave us some juice.” – Tortorella. “Wait, we’re Blue Jackets fans now?” – The hockey gods.
What NHL fans were thinking: “You know what? Good for Columbus. They’ve been bad for so long, it’s nice to finally see their fans have something to cheer about. I could really start to get behind these lovable underdogs.”
Game 8: Blue Jackets at Flames (December 16)
Setting the scene: The Blue Jackets continue a grinding road trip in which they’re given only three days to make it all the way from Edmonton to Calgary.
What happened: The Blue Jackets get out to an early lead, then score twice in the second to put away a mostly uneventful game.
Final score: Columbus 4, Flames 1
Postgame quote: “I don’t like to analyze and to think about it.” – Bobrosvky. You and me both, pal.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Yep. Lovable underdogs.”
Game 9: Blue Jackets at Canucks (December 18)
Setting the scene: Tortorella arrives in Vancouver with a chance to notch his 500th career win against the team that fired him.
What happened: The Blue Jackets take a 3–0 lead early in the third, but a furious Canucks comeback sends the game to overtime.
Final score: Columbus 4, Vancouver 3 (OT)
Notable moment: Seth Jones‘s winner comes less than a minute into the extra frame.
Postgame quote: “That stuff is fun, yeah.” – Tortorella. You know when somebody doesn’t actually know what a word means, but tries to vaguely use it in a sentence anyway? That’s John Tortorella with the word “fun.”
What NHL fans were thinking: “OK, that’s about enough. Can these guys play a good team now please? Somebody like the Kings, maybe?”
Game 10: Kings at Blue Jackets (December 20)
Setting the scene: Columbus heads home looking to push the streak to double digits.
What happened: Backup Curtis McElhinney gets peppered with 46 shots, but stands tall on the way to a shootout win.
Final score: Columbus 3, Los Angeles 2 (SO)
Postgame quote: “I was just thinking, I don’t know if it feels like 10.” – Boone Jenner. I like how a career Columbus Blue Jacket is just casually acting like he knows how a 10-game win streak is supposed to feel.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Is this real life? Who’s next on the schedule. Please let it be somebody who can beat these guys. Let’s see here, it’s… oh, thank god.”
Game 11: Penguins at Blue Jackets (December 22)
Setting the scene: The Blue Jackets, who are now 21-5-4 but somehow still in third place in the Metro, look to take over top spot with a showdown against the defending Cup champs.
What happened: Sidney Crosby opens the scoring two minutes in. The rest is kind of a blur.
Final score: Columbus 7, Penguins 1
Notable moment: Hartnell records a hat trick, because why not.
Postgame quote: “Oh crap, I think we have a major glitch in the NHL sub-routine, somebody should probably check on that.” – The scientists who run the simulation we’re all plugged into.
What NHL fans were thinking: “NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.”
Game 12: Canadiens at Blue Jackets (December 23)
Setting the scene: In the first meeting between the two teams since the 10–0 blowout in October that we all thought was a fluke, the Blue Jackets look to head into the holiday break with yet another win.
What happened: The Canadiens dominate, outshooting Columbus 37–24. It doesn’t matter, because nothing matters anymore.
Final score: Columbus 2, Montreal 1
Notable moment: The Canadiens get a third-period goal from Jeff Petry to close to within one, but the Blue Jackets hold them off in the final minutes to secure the win.
Postgame quote: “We kind of lost ourselves in the third period, but I thought we checked very well in the last three or four minutes, and we found a way to win it.” – Tortorella. He didn’t mean it, he just wanted to remember what it was like to use the word “lost.”
What NHL fans were thinking: “Dear Santa: We’ve all been good boys and girls. Please make the Blue Jackets lose another game someday.”
Game 13: Bruins at Blue Jackets (December 27)
Setting the scene: The Blue Jackets come out of the holiday break to host the Bruins. Maybe they’re still fat and sleepy from too much turkey, we all hope against hope.
What happened: The Blue Jackets jump out to a 3–0 lead before the game is even 10 minutes old, but the Bruins claw back to tie it in the second. That sets the stage for Nick Foligno’s winner midway through the third.
Final score: Columbus 4, Boston 3
Notable moment: Colin Miller’s ill-advised crosschecking penalty sets up the Blue Jackets power play, and Foligno makes them pay.
Postgame quote: “It was a slop-fest. I lit a match to the tape already. It’s done. It’s burnt. Seriously, you don’t even look at it.” – Tortorella. Do we… do we like John Tortorella now? I feel like maybe we do. This is confusing.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Screw you, Santa.”
Game 14: Blue Jackets at Jets (December 29)
Setting the scene: Columbus heads to Winnipeg to face a Jets team that’s won two straight, which they adorably think counts as a winning streak.
What happened: The Jets open the scoring, but the Blue Jackets respond with four straight, then hold on for another win.
Final score: Columbus 5, Winnipeg 3
Notable moment: Any hopes of a Jets comeback in the third is erased when Wennberg scores less than a minute into the period.
Postgame quote: “I’m just proud we are putting our best foot forward every night even when we’re not at our best to find a way to get wins. That’s something [that’s] unfortunately… lacked in this organization.” – Foligno. “Thanks for reminding us of that last part. We were all feeling happy for a second there,” reply Blue Jackets fans.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Please, merciful hockey gods, hear our prayers. Send us a worthy opponent to smite this implacable juggernaut. Conjure up some other unbeatable team that never loses any more so that they may beat the Blue Jackets and our long waking nightmare can finally end.”
Game 15: Blue Jackets at Wild (December 31)
Setting the scene: In one of the biggest mid-season games in recent NHL history, the Blue Jackets and their 14-game streak arrive in Minnesota to challenge the Wild, who’ve won 12 straight. It’s the first time in the history of major North America pro sports that two teams with 12-game winning streaks will face each other.
What happened: In front of a raucous crowd that makes the matchup feel like a playoff game, the Blue Jackets take a 3–0 lead early in the second and hold on for the win.
Final score: Columbus 4, Minnesota 1
Notable moment: With Columbus leading 1–0 two minutes into the second, a pair of fights break out. Just over a minute of game time later, the Blue Jackets are up 3–0.
Postgame quote: “[The streak] really hasn’t been in our vocabulary. I’m not saying that to be an idiot about it.” – Tortorella. I like that he’s achieved a level of self-awareness where he realizes that disclaimer is necessary.
What NHL fans were thinking: “Well, at least the 2018 Stanley Cup is still up for grabs. Maybe my team could win that one.”
Game 16: Oilers at Blue Jacket (January 3)
Setting the scene: Having tied the 2012–13 Penguins and 1981–82 Islanders for the second-longest streak in NHL history, the Blue Jackets look to become only the second team in NHL history to make it a sweet 16.
What happened: Oh, take a guess.
Final score: Columbus 3, Edmonton 1
Notable moment: The Blue Jackets’ team bus arrives at the arena, at which point the Oilers shrug and say, “Welp, we gave it our best shot.”
Postgame quote: “We’re rolling right now.” – Cam Atkinson. Nobody will ever match a professional hockey player’s capacity for stating the obvious.
What NHL fans were thinking: [quietly watching Harlem Globetrotters games because they’re more suspenseful]