Jackets 5, Wings 6: The Day After

I’ve slept on it now, the rawness of it has dulled down a bit, so, last night’s game….

I went in without great faith that the Jackets could put on a decent showing. After all, they’d been thoroughly schooled by Detroit in the first three games. There had been maybe a period’s worth of play in those three games when it felt like the Jackets were actually in it. The CBJ game ops didn’t do much to dispel the feeling of “it ends tonight” — the videos they showed before the game, full of “thank you fans” and highlights from the season, had a valedictory feel to them.

And the quick Detroit score in the first period did nothing to dispel that feeling that the Jackets were going to go down without a fight. Except that they had fight in them. Huselius, heretofore worthless in the series, tied it up. Detroit added a couple more, but even down 3-1, the Jackets looked like a different team. Maybe it was because they didn’t have anything left to lose, but they had lost that feeling of tentativeness that marked the first three games. They were actually bringing it to Detroit and not just laying down. All sorts of Jackets we hadn’t heard from since the regular season were showing up — in addition to Huselius, Modin looked decent, Chimera looked decent, Peca looked decent, Nash was a presence again.

And then the second period…my god, the second period. That had to be one of the most exciting stretches of any sporting event I’ve ever attended. The goals kept coming, for both sides. The crowd (which was more red than Tuesday, as I’d predicted it would be, but still more pro-Columbus than most regular season games against Detroit) just got louder and louder, the lower bowl standing. It was just electric. One of those occasions when it’s as if the distinction between the team on the ice and the crowd in the stands has just melted away and they’re one roiling, scrapping entity. When Kris Russell, who’s looked like a deer in the headlights most of this series, scored on an end-to-end rush…and then Modin (!) scored to make it 5-5, the rational part of my brain just disappeared and I started thinking things like “If we win tonight, they’ll be charged up Saturday and then they can win, and then once they come back to Columbus for game six, anything could happen…”

The third brought me a bit more back to earth. Detroit clearly wanted to end the series at four, and they came out strong, had the Jackets back on their heels most of the period. The refs had put away the whistles. But still the Jackets fought on. Mason, who looked shaky earlier in the game, came up with some crucial stops. As the clock ticked down, it felt like, well, at least we’ll take them to OT in one game. And then it happened. After all sorts of muggings were let go, the refs called the Don Cherry special: Too Many Men on the Ice. In the moment, I was as outraged as anyone at the blatant injustice of the call, but after reading Howson’s comments and the reports of those watching on TV who saw the replay, I’m not going to argue that it was a bad call. Jackets on the PK, less than two minutes to play in regulation. And then, the inevitable. And then the season ended, in a hail of beer cans.

It was a painful, emotional end to what was really a dream season for the Jackets. Looking back at preseason, no one outside of Columbus gave them much shot at making the playoffs. Cynics would argue that without the surprise emergence of Steve Mason, this still wouldn’t have been a playoff team. But they got there. And yeah, they got schooled, by and large. But now the young guys have experienced playoff hockey, and hopefully next year they’ll be able to play like they did last night right out of the gate. And hopefully next year they can take care of business at the end of the regular season and not have to play Detroit in the first round.

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