Share This Page

Defenseman Johnson got Jackets to believe in themselves

| Friday, April 25, 2014, 9:39 p.m.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The ascension of the Columbus Blue Jackets from the worst team in the NHL in 2011-12 to splitting the first four games of the Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series with the Penguins has many facets, including acquiring center Brandon Dubinsky and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Dubinsky has pestered Sidney Crosby throughout the series and scored the tying goal in Game 4 on Wednesday with 24 seconds left in third period before teammate Nick Foligno scored in overtime for a 4-3 win. Bobrovsky won the 2013 Vezina Trophy in his first season with the Blue Jackets after two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Those two are instrumental in the resurgence, but Columbus coach Todd Richards knows exactly when the team's future started looking brighter: Feb. 23, 2012.

“From that moment, the attitude started to change,” Richards said.

What happened that day? The Blue Jackets traded disgruntled forward Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson that day.

To the Blue Jackets' fans it was another example of a good player not wanting to stick around. They had seen it four years earlier when captain Adam Foote orchestrated a trade deadline deal back to his former club, the Colorado Avalanche.

Carter was traded to Columbus from the Flyers early in the 2011-12 season but quickly made it known he wasn't signing a long-term lease.

So, when Johnson arrived from a team that four months later would win the Stanley Cup to one with the fewest points in the league, everyone braced for the worst.

It never came. He embraced the prospect of turning Columbus from loser to winner, and the Indiana native and former University of Michigan standout was genuinely happy to be back in the Midwest.

“To me it, was his attitude,” Richards said. “He was a guy who came from California, from a team that's possibly in the playoffs coming to a 30th-place team.”

The roster was dramatically improved over the past two seasons to the point Johnson's faith was rewarded with fanatical backing for Games 3 and 4 at Nationwide Arena for the first home playoff home games since 2009.

“That's what we envisioned it could be every night,” Johnson said. “We know just like any other city you've got to have a perennial winner to create a buzz around your team every night. We're well on our way, and it was pretty gratifying to see the building like it was.”

The only ones not happy to see Johnson might be the Penguins, who host Game 5 at 7 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center. That includes Crosby, a classmate of Johnson's at Minnesota prep school Shattuck-St. Mary's and a close friend.

Maybe too close. Johnson and Dubinsky are on the ice most times Crosby is and have kept him off the goal sheet in the series.

“There are no friends in the playoffs,” Johnson said.

He proved that by scoring a goal in each of the first three games of the series. He also has two assists and averages 29:36 minutes of ice time.

“You see him going hard every shift, so you know you can't let him down,” defenseman Dalton Prout said. “He's a great leader.”

Richards relates how at a team meeting following the miserable 2011-12 season he asked the players their goals for the following season.

“It got around to Jack, and I'm not sure how many guys had gone before him, but his response was, ‘I want to win the Stanley Cup. That's my goal,' ” Richards said.

“Other guys were saying make the playoffs, this or that. It was him that said, ‘I want to win the Stanley Cup. I'm not in it to make the playoffs. I'm not in it to finish second.' ”

Craig Merz is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.