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Plum native Umberger part of playoff surge in Columbus

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

From the moment he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets before the 2008-09 season, R.J. Umberger wanted to bring a winner to the capital of Ohio.

He was very familiar with Columbus, as he spent several years earlier in the decade at the Ohio State University. He grew to love the city and its people.

Forty-three games into this lockout-shortened 2013 season the Plum native continues to help change the hockey atmosphere in an area starving for a consistent winner.

The Blue Jackets remained in a fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NHL's Western Conference after Monday's dramatic 4-3 overtime win at Colorado. It was their fourth win in a row.

Umberger knows what playoff hockey in Columbus feels like, as he helped the team make the postseason in his first season with the Blue Jackets.

However, the team's playoff stay was a short one, as it was swept in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings.

Over the next three years Columbus won 32, 34 and 29 games and missed the playoffs each time.

With an influx of new talent around Umberger heading into the season, as well as trade-deadline deals such as the one that brought star Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets, Umberger has seen the commitment the franchise has in getting back to the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets have four games remaining in the regular season. Columbus faced Western Conference power Anaheim on Wednesday in a game that was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.

Columbus plays at Los Angeles on Thursday, at San Jose on Sunday and at Dallas on April 25 before closing the regular season at home against Nashville on April 27.

Umberger scored his eighth goal of the season Monday in dramatic fashion.

The tally with less than two minutes left in regulation tied the score at three and sent the game into overtime.

Teammate Nick Foligno then won it for the Blue Jackets with a goal with 29 seconds to go in the five-minute extra session. It was Columbus' 20th win of the season (20-16-7).

It's those types of moments and results that have made this season a special one for Columbus.

During a postseason interview after Monday's victory over the Avalanche, Umberger had a replica WWE championship belt draped over his shoulder signifying his strong play in the contest.

He spoke about how the teamwork of the Blue Jackets players has been vital in order to make the playoff run possible.

Umberger recently scored his 100th regular-season goal with the Blue Jackets. His goal on Monday was his 102nd with the team in the regular season and 105th overall.

He is hoping this shortened season doesn't end before the calendar flips from April to May.

A silver lining for Umberger in the whole lockout mess was the opportunity in November to be a part of the Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame.

He was voted into the hall of fame several years ago, but he wasn't able to be inducted because the NHL regular season would always begin a month before the ceremony was held.

As soon as the games that were scheduled past the date of the hall-of-fame banquet were cancelled, Umberger and the hall of fame committee members quickly made arrangements for him to be a part of the 2012 festivities.

Last month, the NHL Board of Governors approved the new realignment plan, and as part of the plan, Columbus was placed in the Eastern Conference.

The move pleased Umberger and the Blue Jackets organization, which cited benefits from less travel distances to the impact of playing in the Eastern Time Zone on television and radio broadcast schedules.

Columbus will attempt to forge rivalries with new division opponents Carolina, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh.

For Umberger, that's several trips home to play the Penguins each season and several chances for fans in Pittsburgh to see Umberger play live at the Consol Energy Center.

He knew what it was like to play in the Eastern Time Zone and have less travel distances during his time with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at

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