As Artemi Panarin walked down the tunnel Monday to the ice in Nationwide Arena, he was greeted by a much different view than a normal morning practice.
Where there normally would have been a sea of empty blue seats in the downtown building, thousands of fans instead were filling the lower bowl to see the Blue Jackets scrimmage one another.
And Panarin was ready to go, immediately thrusting his hands in the air to show off his excitement.
He was greeted by a roar from those in attendance, and what followed was another moment in the love affair between team and city.
More than 5,500 fans showed up to Nationwide Arena to watch the late-morning scrimmage, and to say the Blue Jackets were appreciative was an understatement.
"I'm just shocked -- does anybody work?" head coach John Tortorella joked when told of the turnout, which wrapped nearly two-thirds of the way around the lower bowl of the arena.
"It's great for our guys to see the support. I'm glad our guys acknowledged the people before they left the ice. It's great for the city. I'm excited to be part of a city that is so behind us here, and I hope we perform well for them."
PLAYOFF CENTRAL: Your one-stop location for news, notes, videos, and more
Blue Jackets fever has taken hold of Columbus, reaching a crescendo since Columbus eliminated the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs with a four-game sweep. That's been shown from the fans who showed up to Tortorella's house to tell him how much the victories meant to them to those who left brooms leaned up against the garage door of captain Nick Foligno.
And with the Blue Jackets now on day six without a game as potential second-round foes Boston and Toronto now go to a Game 7, the Blue Jackets' brain trust decided to open up the doors and welcome in fans for a simulated game.
It was also a chance for the Jackets to add some intensity to practice. Columbus has been practicing since its series ended, but the Jackets won't open the second round until Thursday at the earliest, a nine-day span between games.
Video: Torts eager for second round
"Instead of coaches on the ice putting them through drills, I wanted them to play some 5-on-5," Tortorella said. "I wanted them to look at situations 5-on-5, making plays 5-on-5, defending 5-on-5. A coach always wants more game situations, and I think we got as close to it as we can."
The contest consisted of two 30-minute, running-clock periods with a short intermission in between, and teams were split evenly among the 23 skaters and two goalies available. The game ended up tied 3-3 -- Matt Duchene knotted the score with 8.7 seconds left for the White team -- and went to a shootout, where Zach Werenski won it for the Blue squad with a nifty fake and finish by goalie Keith Kinkaid.
Alexandre Texier scored twice for the Blue team while Panarin also got on the board, and Joonas Korpisalo was in net. Duchene was joined on the score sheet for the White team by David Savard and Brandon Dubinsky. Among those not to play were Sergei Bobrovsky, Boone Jenner, Adam McQuaid, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara and Elvis Merzlikins.
But the day was more about the atmosphere than the particulars, with fans breaking out in "C-B-J" and "Lets go Jack-ets" chants 20 minutes before the players took the ice and showing their appreciation for the squad from there.
"I was surprised, that's for sure," winger Oliver Bjorkstrand said of the turnout. "I didn't really know what to expect. It's nice to see the fans come out and support us, especially for a practice. It was fun. It's nice getting a little bit of game-type situations and having all the fans here show how excited they are."
"It was cool," Ryan Dzingel added. "I think we needed that for sure. I think we needed to get back out there after having a long break, so it's nice to get out there and skate a little bit and feel the puck. A lot of fans out there, and it's a cool experience for sure."