The most important goal in franchise history was scored by the most important player in franchise history.
For Rick Nash
and the Columbus Blue Jackets
, the end truly justified the means.
"Who else could have scored that but him?" Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla
told NHL.com of Nash's goal with 5:30 left in regulation last Wednesday in Chicago, which sent the game into overtime and gave the Jackets the point they needed to clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "For Nasher, that was pretty sweet. He deserves it."
Klesla is perhaps the only other person that deserved to score that goal. He's the only player remaining in Columbus from the inaugural season of 2000-01, but he was scratched last Wednesday due to continuing discomfort in his oblique muscle.
Together, though, Klesla and Nash celebrated the goal and the shootout victory in the dressing room after the game. It validated their longstanding belief in the franchise.
"We just kind of laughed about it and said it was a long time coming, a bit longer for him, but we stuck with it," Nash told NHL.com. "We wanted to be here. We love the city. We love the organization. We're happy to be the only two left to experience it."
Klesla was the Jackets' first-ever draft pick, the fourth overall selection in the 2000 Entry Draft in Calgary. His first NHL game was also the first game in Blue Jackets' history, Oct. 7, 2000. His first NHL goal was the fourth goal scored by the franchise.
Columbus made Nash the first overall pick at the 2002 Entry Draft in Toronto. He made his NHL debut a few months later on Oct. 10 and has been the face of the franchise ever since.
"I remember him getting drafted and talking to him when he came," Klesla said. "It's been a long time and he's done a tremendous job for the franchise. He has become one of the best players in the League and for our team he's a really special guy."
Their regular seasons could not have gone any differently.
While Nash was busy setting franchise records for goals (40) and points (79) in a season, Klesla was battling a variety of injuries (high ankle sprain, broken foot, wrist sprain, shoulder separation, oblique muscle pull) that limited him to just 34 games.
He's hoping -- no, praying -- to be healthy for the playoffs.
"That's the major thing right now," Klesla said. "I'm still pretty sore, but the playoffs will be the most important time to get everybody ready and pumped up."
It's not as if Klesla and Nash have any idea how to do that, but there's a first time for everything.
"From my perspective, I wouldn't have cared if the goalie scored (the game-tying goal in Chicago) as long as we tied the game," Nash said. "Me and Rusty have been here the longest. To get that goal and to get this team to the next level is exciting."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com