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The Columbus Blue Jackets backing into a playoff spot with an overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday somehow seemed fitting Cheap Orlando Brown Jr. Jersey , considering the weird season it’s been.
The road to a second-straight postseason appearance – the first time in franchise history that’s happened – was pocked with potholes for the Blue Jackets. Major injuries, slumping stars and an NHL-worst power play seemed to doom them as the grinding days of midwinter wore on.
Not like last year, when the surprising young team had juice, momentum, healthy players having career years and a stunning 16-game winning streak that was the talk of the league. The Blue Jackets cruised to the playoffs with 11 games left in the schedule.
By the time February rolled around this time, Columbus looked like an average team at best. The Blue Jackets lost eight of their first 11 games in the month and were slipping down the table in the rugged Metropolitan Division. A series of significant injuries to top players had coach John Tortorella piecing together lines from what was left and call-ups from the AHL team in Cleveland.
The Feb. 26 trade deadline brought veteran forwards Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu, as well as scrappy defenseman Ian Cole. After a pair of West Coast losses at the beginning of March, the Blue Jackets ripped off a 10-game winning streak on the way to winning 13 of 15 games.
Still, it took three straight games of overcoming a three-goal deficit to get at least a point, and the overtime loss to Pittsburgh in the season’s penultimate game Thursday to earn a needed point and lock up a playoff spot. New Jersey and Philadelphia were always within a point or two, creating urgency every time the Blue Jackets stepped onto the ice in the past week.
”There was a point that we stayed in it when we were playing lousy Ezekiel Elliott Jersey , we were banged up with injuries and we weren’t playing that well at certain times, even when some (injured) guys came back,” Tortorella said. ”We stayed in because (other teams) were losing. We’re just fortunate that we kept on winning when everybody else started winning. It’s crazy.”
Crazy, indeed, considering key contributors Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Seth Jones, Brandon Dubinsky and captain Nick Foligno all missed significant chunks of the schedule with injuries.
The Blue Jackets wouldn’t be preparing for the postseason without Artemi Panarin, brought to Columbus in an offseason trade with Chicago, and 19-year rookie sensation Pierre-Luc Dubois Clay Matthews Jersey Youth , who got his 48th point of the season Thursday night, breaking the franchise rookie record set by Zach Werenski last season.
The 26-year-old Panarin has become the dangerous puck distributor and sniper the Blue Jackets had been seeking, getting 27 goals and 55 assists for a Columbus franchise record of 82 points. He’s put up 13 points in the last five games, including a pair of assists against Pittsburgh.
Columbus is playing its grittiest hockey at just the right time.
”I am absolutely thrilled,” Tortorella said. ”The amount of work they put in; we were dead and gone there a couple of months ago. I’m thrilled we get to experience what we’re going to experience here.”
If they can beat Nashville in the regular-season finale Saturday, they have a chance to secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the postseason. That’s never happened in Columbus, either.
”We’ve been playing our best stretch of hockey and coming together as a group, so obviously it’s a good time of year,” Jenner said. ”We have to keep going.”
Free agent safety Eric Reid said Thursday he is not planning to protest during the national anthem this upcoming season.
Reid has been among the NFL’s most visible protesters since former San Francisco teammate Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem in 2016.
Reid continued the protest of racial injustice and police brutality against minorities by kneeling during the anthem last season as Kaepernick was unable to find a job. But Reid said he will take a different approach in 2018.
”We understand you have to change with the times,” he said after watching his brother, Justin Seahawks D.J. Fluker Jersey , take part in his Pro Day at Stanford.
”I’m not saying I’m going to stop being active because I won’t. I’m just going to consider different ways to be active, different ways to bring awareness to the issues of this country and improve on the issues happening in this country. I don’t think it will be in the form of protesting during the anthem. I say during because it’s crazy that the narrative changed to we were protesting the anthem and that wasn’t the case. I think we’re going to take a different approach to how we’re going to be active.”
Reid has gotten no contract offers more than a week into free agency despite a record of strong play on the field and versatility that many teams usually covet.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch said the team is monitoring the market for Reid but the Niners are mostly set at safety with Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward and Adrian Colbert under contract.
Reid said his agent has heard from a ”couple” of teams but money hasn’t been discussed and he is still awaiting an opportunity. Reid has said that he understands his activism could affect his employment, especially after watching Kaepernick go unsigned for more than a year.
”I said before, I stand by what I’ve done,” he said. ”I know why I’ve done it. My faith in God is the reason. I can go to sleep at night confident that I did what I was taught to do. I’m just going to stay positive, keep training, keep staying in shape and we’ll see what happens.”
Reid was a first-round pick by the 49ers in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He has been a strong player throughout his career, playing strong safety, free safety and even some linebacker last season when San Francisco was short-handed at the position.
He has 10 interceptions and 36 passes defensed in 70 career games.
”Eric played and played well for us last year,” Lynch said. ”I think he’s kind of stuck in a safety market that’s been quiet. I would anticipate things starting to shake for him. We’ll see.”
While Eric Reid looks for a team Youth Jerome Baker Jersey , he spent Thursday helping his brother prepare for his Pro Day. Justin Reid is considered one of the top safeties eligible for the draft and will likely get picked on the first two days of next month’s draft.
Justin Reid said he has visits planned with Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Seattle and Carolina. He also met with 29 teams at the combine but said no one has asked him about his brother or if he would protest during the anthem.
Justin Reid said he’s prepared for those questions if they come and that he won’t protest.
”We each have our own beliefs,” he said. ”He felt like that’s what he needed to do. I have my own ways that I feel like I’m going to go about it. I’m not as much of a vocal person in that situation. I don’t really like drama. I don’t want to deal with that.”