By Matt McCoy
In venues separated by just over three miles, Columbus' two major winter sports teams play at the same time Thursday, in games that could play a major role in the direction of both seasons.
By no means is it unprecedented for the Blue Jackets and Basketball Buckeyes to play at home on the same night...it happens a few times every year...but this one feels more significant than most.
It certainly is for the Jackets. The NHL's hottest team with a franchise record seven consecutive wins, hosts Philadelphia, the team directly ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings. A regulation win by the Jackets would pull them into a tie with Philly for third in the Metro with 56 points. Since the Jackets have played two fewer games, it would technically put Columbus in playoff position.
On top of that, it's also game number 1,000 in Blue Jackets franchise history and the buzz surrounding team is as great as its ever been.
"It's starting to build," Coach Todd Richards said of the citywide excitement surrounding the team. "I'm getting more requests to do phone interviews for radio stations...that's telling you that things are going good and there's a buzz, but we can't get comfortable with it and can't get satisfied with it that we've arrived because we haven't arrived."
WTVN is one of those radio stations Richards referenced. He joined Joel Riley Thursday morning. To listen to the interview click here:
Given the milestone, the win streak and the importance in the standings, it's easy to see why Thursday's match-up with the Flyers is significant to the Blue Jackets. The Buckeye basketball game holds some significance as well, for much different reasons.
Just 16 days ago, Ohio State was undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the country. Four losses later, including a 68-62 setback Monday to Big Ten bottom-dweller Nebraska, and the Buckeyes are in full blown crisis mode as they prepare to welcome Illinois.
"No one in our locker room has lost like this...no one has lost four in a row and we know it's unacceptable for our program," Ohio State forward Sam Thompson said. "At this point we're down to a one game season. It's kind of like post-season basketball right now. Our only goal is to be better than Illinois and we think we can do that."
This is only the third four-game losing streak since Thad Matta came to Ohio State and the first since 2008. The Buckeyes, under Matta have never lost five straight.
"We need to have more composure and more intellect (late in games)," Matta said. "We've made some mistakes down the stretch, some costly turnovers that--I don't know if we're tight, or what it is--but at times it's been very uncharacteristic."
The irony of the Buckeye game is they're playing an Illinois team that was in the top 25 two weeks ago, but has also lost four straight.
Would tonight's Columbus sports twin-bill be better if the Buckeyes were 19-0 and still ranked No. 3 nationally and the Blue Jackets were the Metropolitan Division leaders? Maybe...but it would be no more compelling.