Hard to believe that after 82 regular season games, 226 goals and 2,363 shots on goal, the playoffs are about to begin!!! Hitch has had several days to review his options and draw his battle plans, we have had the chance to get the bumps and bruises healed, rest up and get in shape for the (hopefully) long road ahead.
Fortune Tellers — It is difficult to find any of the pundits out there willing to go out on a limb and predict a CBJ victory in this one. There is my piece, predicting CBJ in 6, and Maggie the Monkey on TSN, also picking the Jackets, but other than that, the pickings are slim. My wife pointed this out to me, with the unstated (but perhaps valid) implication that similar degrees of intellect may be involved.
Fantasy Island — THN’s Fantasy expert is giving some love to Antoine Vermette, saying that he expects the newest Blue Jacket to have a big series against Detroit.
First Round Notes — The Rangers looked unexpectedly competetive and sound in their 4-3 win over Washington last night. The Caps are going to need more than offense if they hope to win this series. New Jersey also dispatched Carolina with surprising ease in yesterday’s contest, reversing the trend seen at season’s end. The Penguins looked very scary in their win over Philadelphia, and may be peaking at the right time. Finally, Vancouver looked good in edging the Blues, but you have the sense that this one may go seven.
Surprising Whistles — In watching the games last night, I was amazed at the number of penalties called, contrary to the customary “swallow the whistle” rule in the playoffs. Also a couple of real, honest-to-goodness fights. Strange . . .
Dress Code Reminder — For those heading to Detroit for Games 1 or 2, remember to WEAR YOUR BLUE!!!! Blue jersey, blue hair, blue nail polish . And for the ladies. . . . It was an incredible show of support in the Joe for the 8 – 2 victory, and this should put that to shame. Let’s get a victory, then assemble under the broadcast booths to salute our on air teams (and simultaneously annoy the Detroit broadcasters, who complained about us the last time we were in Columbus.
Good Omen — The last time Detroit was the defending Stanley Cup Champion, they were swept in the first round by Anaheim.
Keys To Victory — We have done six game previews this year, so really do not need to rehash in detail all of t
he pluses and minuses involved in this matchup. Here are the big picture items:
- Tempo — Stay within ourselves, and avoid the track meet.
- Play The System — Stick with what got us here. Get the puck low, put lots of rubber on the net — nothing fancy. Traffic in front. Get the picket fence going in the neutral zone and forecheck aggressively.
- Take Care of the Puck — We need to be prudent, but not timid. Make quick, sure passes in all zones, rely on our skaters to move the puck out of trouble, and keep the Detroit forwards at the perimeter.
- Mind The Crease — Mason needs to stand tall, be aggressive, and avoid rebound in front. Defensemen need to clear pucks from the crease, and hammer Holmstrom when he tries to set up camp in the blue paint.
- Even Keel – This is the first playoff experience for many of our guys, so the coaches and the veterans will have to make sure that we do not get overly high if we get a lead, or overly low if Detroit gets on a roll. It is a 7 game series, and there are going to be more than enough ups and downs to go around.
Bottom line is that we know Hitch will have the boys ready, and that they will play a hard, competetive game. We have lots of talent, and no expectations resting on our shoulders from outside. That should allow us to play loose. Let’s see that next gear — the one we saw at Nationwide in the 5 – 0 drubbing of the Flames. Buckle up — this is going to be a wild ride!!