So, here we are, on the eve of the Blue Jackets’ first playoff appearance (okay, technically tomorrow is playoff eve, but my parents are coming to town tomorrow, so I might not get a chance to post then), the playoff logos are going on the Nationwide Arena ice. The obvious question at this time is — do the Jackets have what it takes to upset the Red Wings and move on to the second round? Or are we in for the ignominy of a Thrasher-esque sweep?
If we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we’d better prepare for something more like the latter. Although I do believe the Jackets are capable of winning at least a game in this series and not going out in four, I just don’t like this matchup at all from a series winner perspective. The Wings are just too talented and too playoff experienced, the Jackets too raw and with too many weak areas to see Columbus coming out on top, barring some sort of complete collapse by Detroit. Hate to say it, but I just don’t see another way to call it.
I think we know what Columbus’ biggest weakness is (apart from the trend towards uninspired play late in the regular season) — the wretched power play. It’s dogged them all season, but it looms bigger than ever in the postseason. Modern NHL playoff games are grind ’em out defensive battles, by and large. That’s why so many of them seem to go into multiple overtimes. It’s just damn hard to score at even strength in the playoffs. Which means it’s absolutely crucial to capitalize on the extra man chances. Jackets haven’t figured it out yet in the regular season; it’s going to be a killer in the playoffs. They will be getting Modin and Huselius back, and there’s a possibility Brassard will return at some point, so they may have slightly better luck on the PP than they have had, but I just don’t see it being enough.
Those who argue that the Jackets have a chance in the series point mostly at goaltending — the somewhat questionable play of Chris Osgood and/or Ty Conklin in Detroit, and the phenomenal rookie performance by Steve Mason in Columbus. I dunno, I do think Detroit’s goaltending is questionable — probably not capable of stealing a series. But I don’t see the Red Wings needing their goalies to steal the series with Columbus. As tough a time as the Jackets have scoring goals, if the Wings’ goalie is merely competent it should suffice for a best-of-seven. On the flip side, I do think Mason has the ability to steal a series, but — and I know I’m a broken record on this point — I question whether he has enough gas in the tank to do it. He did not look quite as stellar in some of the later regular season games, and I do wonder if he’s wearing down from overuse.
I realize the Jackets did decently against Detroit in the regular season, even embarrassing them on their home ice 8-2. But we need to remember that the Wings came back to Columbus and just skated rings around the Jackets in a 5-0 win. When they’re on, they’re just that much better than the Jackets. And I suspect they’ll be on for the playoffs. If anything, the regular season success might haunt the Jackets because the Wings are familiar with what they can do and won’t be as apt to take them lightly.
All this said, I offer the usual proviso — that’s why they play the games. We won’t know what is going to happen for sure in the series until the games are actually played. I’ll be cheering my heart out for the Jackets when the puck drops. Just trying not to be unrealistic in my expectations.
And the one positive of playing Detroit (besides not having to stay up into the wee hours for late games) is that there should be a decent mix of both team’s fans in both buildings. I know Red Wings fans can be pretty annoying in Nationwide, but their presence should keep the Jackets’ fans on their toes. The only NHL playoff game I’ve heretofore been able to attend in person was a Leafs-Sens game at the then Corel Centre. As is typical in Ottawa, it was about 25-30% Leaf fans, and the building was just percolating with energy (and hate). I expect nothing less at Nationwide.
Whatever happens, it’s a learning experience for players and fans. As Nietzsche — or was it Kanye West? — is reputed to have said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” We’re opening an exciting new chapter in Blue Jackets history, and it only gets better from here.