By Mike Harrington
The Buffalo Sabres figure to be heading into quite the hornet's nest Saturday night in Nationwide Arena. The Columbus Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL, riding a franchise-record eight-game winning streak. Games in one of the NHL's most underrated downtown rinks have usually seen a split crowd of fans in the past, with plenty of Sabres blue and gold in the crowd. The scene might be quite a bit different Saturday.
The Blue Jackets celebrated the 1,000th game in franchise history with Thursday's 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. This is a franchise, remember, barren of any success. Its lone trip to the playoffs came in 2009 and ended in a four-game sweep against the Detroit Red Wings.
Great friend of the Edge Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch penned this super look back at the team's first 1,000 games and is featured in the video the paper put together at the top of this post.
"Those poor fans have been there for that team through thick and thin, a lot of misery, a lot of rebuilding," said Sabres center Zenon Konopka, who played for Columbus and its AHL affiliate in Syracuse from 2006-2008. "So I feel really good about them getting a winner there. The fans have paid their dues.
"They're starving for a winner there. Just starving. The team works hard. They have an identity and they stick to it. That's something we need to take a look at and understand that teams like that have to bring it every night and they do. That's an area we have to get better at."
"They are probably at an all-time high right now, feeling good and having a lot of confidence," added Christian Ehrhoff, a regular Jackets opponent when they were in the Western Conference and he was in San Jose and Vancouver. "I like their roster. You look at the young kid [Ryan] Johansen. He's been great for them and is really developing into a a good player and he's only starting to get where he can be.
"They have really good players. It's taken them a while but they're definitely a team to watch now and you have to bring your 'A' game if you want to take points away."
Johansen, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft, has team-highs of 19 goals and 37 points this season. He scored the shootout winner to beat the Sabres here last Saturday.
The Blue Jackets finished last year 19-5-5 and lost out on the final Western Conference playoff spot on a tiebreaker to Minnesota. They have the look of a playoff team in the East, and are currently tied for third in the Metropolitan Division and just a point back of the New York Rangers for second. If you're looking at the wild-card race, they have a two-point lead over both Detroit and Ottawa.
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