The red tape is gone, the excitement calmed, and the reality completely settled on the Jackets. They are officially in their first playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Before I consider what it will take to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions, I want to voice a few things regarding how they got to this point.
One week ago, hell, more like half a month ago, the Jackets knew their chances of getting into the playoffs were great. They followed that optimism with some of their worst games of the year, winning only three of their last ten regular season games. In the finale Saturday night, they squandered a two goal lead and gave a non playoff team the satisfaction of beating the ever living hell out of them in the final two periods, outscoring the Jackets 6-1. So badly was the Jackets effort, it left a more than sellout crowd stunned and in pain over their blunder. Yet another game thrown away, and they handed their chances to a streaking St Louis Blues team.
As though capping off my personal disdain, the Blues beat a disinterested Colorado team today, tying the Jackets in points for the year, and taking control of 6th place. That gave St Louis the ability to chose their fate, and they took advantage of that opportunity like a true playoff ready squad. It also busted my pre-season prediction of the Jackets finishing in 6th place, giving me some personal anger, but hey, we can’t win them all!
Now, on to this series…
Columbus, based on their recent performance, is far from prepared to play a playoff series. They are out of sync, questionable defensively, far from consistent offensively, and their special teams remain one of their biggest crutches. If ever a time for the coaching, leadership, and unity of this team to step it up, this is it.
Focus should be on their defensive game. Playing a stellar offense like Detroit means zero mistakes in the defensive end. Steve Mason will have to be their best asset, and stretch passes must only be made when there is a Jacket on the receiving end.
Offensively, Columbus needs to hit the net. The minute weakness in Detroit is their goaltending, which has been far from consistent this year. Once a shot opportunity is available, it needs to go hard and low on net, with all other forwards crashing the net hard. Grinder goals are a major asset for any team trying to get through a playoff series, and Detroit has been on the receiving end of such efforts quite a few times this decade.
Finally, the powerplay. It should not be something I need to be proclaiming, but I will anyway. THEY NEED TO SCORE WITH THE MAN ADVANTAGE! I capitalize that because it is so blatantly obvious that playoff teams succeed from a 20+ percentage on the powerplay. Pressure needs to be consistent to put Detroit on their heels, and the puck needs to hit the net actively.
I will have a lot more to weigh in on when they finish their first game. Here is hoping they actually bring their ‘A’ game for this series, because there is zero room for error.
Carry the Flag!