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Fan support frenzied as Blue Jackets face must-win

by Wes Crosby

COLUMBUS -- When the Columbus Blue Jackets step onto the Nationwide Arena ice Monday trying to stave off elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will be backed by a raucous crowd.

A group of Blue Jackets fans began camping outside of Nationwide Arena a full 24 hours before tickets go on sale at 5 p.m. Monday for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; CBC, RDS2, ROOT, FS-O).

Even as it began to rain heavily in Columbus on Monday morning, the fans waiting to purchase $40 seats did not budge. Ponchos were distributed to those in line, where the "Mighty Ducks" films aired the previous night.

A group of Columbus Blue Jackets fans began camping outside of Nationwide Arena a full 24 hours before tickets go on sale at 5 p.m. Monday for Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo: Columbus Blue Jackets)

"I've been watching the Blue Jackets ever since they've come to town and I've just been watching them and enjoying the playoffs," Blue Jackets fan Michael Sinay said. "They've had a chance in every single game. It will be a tough-fought [game], but I think they'll be able to pull it out tonight.

"I'm pretty excited. It's why I've been waiting outside here in the rain."

The fans were greeted by Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson and his father at around 9:45 p.m. Sunday. According to various reports, the people at the front of line were rewarded for their perseverance by Atkinson, who said he would pay for the first 10 tickets bought Monday, a $400 donation, and also presented signed sticks to two fans.

"Love the fans," Atkinson tweeted Sunday night from his account, @CamAtkinson13.

Atkinson gave credit to his girlfriend, Natalie Malone, for noticing on Twitter fans were camping.

"If they're going to join the battle like we do, I might as well return the favor," Atkinson said. "The fact that fans were going to camp out for tickets, I thought was pretty special. It was a cool moment."

Sinay, a 21-year-old finance major at the University of Cincinnati, said he arrived at Nationwide Arena at 5 a.m. Monday. He credited the Blue Jackets' style of play for the growing bond between them and their fan base.

"I think it's the way they play together," Sinay said. "It's not one person that's going out and winning the games time after time. It's just a solid performance all around. They really play a tough style of hockey. That's just one thing that has and will help them win in the postseason."

Kate Koufman, a 28-year-old band director, agreed the Blue Jackets have played in a way that has galvanized Columbus, and said the crowd has returned the favor by showing support even when the team falls behind.

"They are playing differently than they have in the past," Koufman said. "I think they are playing 60 minutes of hockey instead of letting go in the last two or three minutes of each period. I think they're more focused throughout the entire game.

"I always think the crowd is important. I think it makes a difference when you're playing for your own fans. Even when we were down 3-1 in the last game, it helps to cheer."

Cody Fulwider, an 18-year old high school senior, arrived in line at 7:30 a.m. He said he believed the crowd will motivate Columbus to force a Game 7.

"The Blue Jackets are going to win," Fulwider said. "I think being home, they'll be able to keep the lead. When they've been here, the crowd has supported them the whole way. I think that will help them win tonight."

Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert said he has been impressed by the fans' enthusiasm.

"You can definitely feel the change around town already," Calvert said. "We've played five playoff games now and you're starting to get recognized more. People are very supportive. I feel [Columbus] is going to turn into a great hockey city."

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