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Penguins

Colin Dunlap: You Can Learn From Columbus Fans

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Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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The Columbus Blue Jackets were 27th out of 30 NHL teams in home attendance during the regular season.

The franchise drew an average of 14,698 patrons to home games, filling the building to just 81 percent capacity during the 41 games at Nationwide Arena.

By comparison, the Penguins were ninth in the NHL, drawing an average crowd of 18,618, which filled CONSOL to 101.3 percent capacity and pushed a sellout streak to 329 games.

The Penguins haven’t had less than a full house since Feb. 14, 2007.

But you know what I hear all the time? The CONSOL isn’t loud; that it is a disappointment.

You know what the never-ending refrain seems to be? That it is a rich folk, country club crowd, worried first about being seen and second — if at all — about making noise and attempting to propel the Penguins.

In short, they pack them in at Mario’s Uptown Mansion, but it’s the quietest gathering of nearly 19,000 people you will run across.

Now is your chance.

Honestly, now is a chance to change the way you are looked upon. Will Penguins fans now understand they can, perhaps, have an impact on a game or will they continue to carry on in their seemingly-requisite unobtrusive comportment? Who knows?

I know this much for sure — a challenge has been thrown upon Penguins fans.

The craziest part is that, of all people, Blue Jackets fans were the ones to issue it.

You see, as the Penguins and Blue Jackets get set for Game 5 on Saturday night at CONSOL — and possible a Game 7 next week here in Pittsburgh — in the first round of the NHL playoffs, there are some quotes that resonated deeply from that crazy Game 4 played in Ohio between the two teams.

The Penguins shot to a 3-0 advantage just 11 minutes in as they held a 2-1 series lead.
What happened next in the seats the players on the ice noticed, as Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski undeniably felt his team gathered steam as a result of the Nationwide Arena fans.

“Honestly, I want to give credit to the crowd,” Wisniewski said. “They kept behind us. They could have started booing us or whatever. But they kept feeding us energy. We got a big power play goal and it cut the deficit to a two-goal lead instead of a three-goal lead going into the intermission and that’s a whole different mindset.”

It was. That goal — with just over 3 minutes left before the first break — made it 3-1 when Boone Jenner shuttled a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury.

From there, the Blue Jackets fought back to tie it at 3-3 late in regulation on a Fleury misplay before winning it early in overtime.

Indeed, as they were on their way to collecting their first home playoff win in franchise history, one would expect the Blue Jackets fans to take on an atmosphere where they went nuts, as there was infinite pent-up energy. One can draw a parallel to what happened with the PNC Park crowd for the Wild Card win at the end of last season against the Reds.

Still, the crowd didn’t go unnoticed by Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards.

“Our crowd was great, the fans were great,” Richards said. “Because at 3-0, the way it was going, there could have been boos. But we got nothing but support from them. And that helped, without a question.”

One Pittsburgh writer who covers the Penguins shared with me in a text when I asked him of the crowd in Columbus for Game 4, the following: “Was absolutely insane. Literally twice as loud as I’ve ever heard Consol. Ears were ringing an hour after game.”

So, there’s that.

Is this a column calling Columbus a better hockey city than Pittsburgh? Not in the least. Not even close.

Is this a column giving an exorbitant amount of praise to Blue Jackets fans for going to a playoff game and getting loud? I don’t think that’s the intent.

But, I will say this: The showing the Columbus fans had in Game 4 in their arena accentuates that paying customers probably can impact a game.

More to the point it also serves to point out how loud that arena was on Wednesday night in relation to how quiet CONSOL generally is.

Will that change Saturday night and beyond in these playoffs? I don’t know.

What’s for sure is that Columbus fans, of all people, have set the bar in this series.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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