Unlike what I have been doing all season, I will be covering all 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff games that the Columbus Blue Jackets play in, both at home and away.
Saturday night was one of emotions for Blue Jackets fans. The team, which normally ends their season on a “goodbye, see you next year” note, instead will be heading to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in their franchise history. Due to this, the fans were into the game, and they were more vocal than I have ever seen them before. Adding to this emotional note, Jacques Lemaire, the only coach the Minnesota Wild has ever known, announced his retirement after the game. Lemaire has his name on the Cup nine times — eight as a player for Montreal and once for coaching New Jersey. A sweeping Wild win was a great way for him to end his career.
With the fans clamoring in their ears, and their playoff hopes realized, the Jackets started playing with something to prove. At the one-minute mark the fans got what they wanted as Manny Malhotra set up captain Rick Nash with a beautiful shot; this goal gave Nash 40 goals and 40 assists for the season. Jared Boll then continued to pressure the Wild as he scored his fourth goal of the season at the six-minute mark. His shot, though it was off center, bounced off of goalie Josh Harding’s legs and then trickled in, much to the delight of the crowd. After the first seven minutes of excitement, the crowd got a little bored and died down a bit. To fire them back up, Nash jumped over Harding at about the 15th minute of the game. Though this resulted in nothing but a sweet replay moment, it fired the crowd up and got momentum back on the Jackets’ side.
Rumor has it that Lemaire told the Wild he was stepping down during the first intermission. Even if this story was false, it is a good explanation for what happened in the second period; the Wild, who played the first as though they were done, came back and dominated during the second. Kurtis Foster got a goal in the sixth minute, though it only went in because his pass ricocheted off of Columbus’ Malhotra’s skate. Marian Gaborik added to the Wild’s run as he scored in the 10th minute when they were a man down. In the 14th minute, Blue Jacket Jason Chimera got called for holding, and the Wild’s Martin Skoula scored the power play goal. In just 20 minutes, life was sucked out of Nationwide Arena, as the Wild took the lead over the Blue Jackets, 3-2.
Ken Hitchcock, the Blue Jacket’s coach, must have done some series chatting with his team during the second intermission, as the Jackets came out looking for blood. Even with this desire, however, they were unable to find anything as the Wild kept control of the puck. Marian Gaborik and Marc-Andre Bergeron scored in the 13th and 14th minutes, sealing the deal for Minnesota. However, Columbus’ Derek Dorsett did his best to keep Columbus in it, and he scored just 21 seconds after Bergeron’s goal. This got the fans back into it, and made it seem possible for the Blue Jackets to pull it off.
During the 18th minute of the 3rd period, Minnesota’s Colton Gillies got called for holding. Calling a time out, Coach Hitchcock took a risk and pulled goalie Steve Mason. This meant that Columbus would be two men up, 6-4. However, this did nothing as Mikko Koivu was able to score a short handed goal on Columbus’ empty net, finishing the game 6-3. Though the Blue Jackets came out onto the ice during the third period looking as though they stood a chance, the Wild stood their ground and finished their final game in style. The style, of course, was a 6-3 route of the seventh-place Blue Jackets.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Columbus is not known for having a good power play unit. In fact, of the 30 teams in the NHL, Columbus has the worst power play rating. Even funnier is the fact that Columbus scores more often a man down than they do a man up, and this is quite sad. On Saturday night the Blue Jackets showed why they have the worst ranking as they didn’t score on any of their three chances. Furthermore, they actually went ahead and let in two short handed goals during these three chances and gave the Wild the momentum they needed. If Columbus wishes to get past the first round of the playoffs, they need to buckle down and score when they have extra men on the ice.
Control, possession, desire, and fans. Those are the four things that every team needs to do well in their quest for Lord Stanley’s Mug. During Saturday night’s game, the Jackets only had one: the fans. Turning over dozens of passes and playing with sloppy stick work, Columbus made it far too easy for Minnesota to waltz in and take the game from them. The Jackets played with no desire and no passion, as they went from a 2-0 win to a 6-3 loss in the blink of an eye. If Columbus expects to do anything during the post season, they need to control the puck better, get cleaner passes, and want it more.
On the 16th of April, Columbus will be playing in their first ever playoff game. They will be facing the Detroit Red Wings, who are second in the West with 112 points. The Wings are also the defending Stanley Cup champs, and they are looking for another back-to-back Cup-winning season (they were the last to do so in ’97-’98). Due to this, the fans from both clubs will be cheering and jeering especially hard. Detroit needs to intimidate their opponents; to do this, their fans, along with their octopi, will be more rambunctious than any other time. Columbus, on the other hand, is just happy to be in the playoffs, so their fans will be cheering no matter what. Add to this the fact that the two are just 3 hours apart, and you have a nice mix for a playoff game.
Throughout the season, the clubs have split their 6 games, 3-3. The last game in Detroit was won by Columbus, who routed the Wings with an 8-2 score. The last game in Columbus was won by Detroit, who shut out the Jackets 4-0. We can expect Thursday’s game to be similar fare, where the game is decided by one team’s offense and the other’s lack of a defense. Steve Mason, the rookie phenom for Columbus, is looking at winning three different trophies, and is sure to make an impact. Chris Osgood, on the other hand, is a liability for Detroit as he alternates between really good and really bad. Expect each game to be won by whoever scores first, and the goalies to have a huge impact on the outcome. Simply due to their experience, I give Detroit this first game.
Know Your Hockey
On Saturday, Columbus allowed two short handed goals against them. A short handed goal is when one team has fewer players on the ice (due to a penalty) and yet still manage score a goal. As the number of men on the ice can can be either 3-on-5 or 4-on-5, a short handed goal can be done when down one or two men. These are hard to get, as they usually require an offensive mistake from the other team. They are also very dangerous, as a miss causes the defense to be even more off balance.