Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Best. Game. Ever!

Tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets came back and won the game 4-3 in overtime against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins, to tie the best of seven series at two games apiece.  The series now heads back to Pittsburgh on Saturday, but a Game 6 on Monday in Columbus is now assured.

What a game.  What a game!  The Penguins asserted their will early, jumping up to a 3-0 lead.  I remember thinking early about the goal that bounced in off Wisniewski's butt in the last game, and thinking it would be great if we got a GOOD bounce off Wiz's butt.  No.  It bounced right to the Pens, and Adams comes down and scores a shorty to open the scoring.  The Pens continued to exert their will, and ended up going up 3-0 before 12 minutes were done in the first period.

With the officiating continuing the absolutely brutal trend of the last game, Neal gets whistled for his second interference call in consecutive games for checking the guy with the puck after a prior brutal call by the officials.  According to NHL rules, a clean hit after a lousy call is called for interference.  But the CBJ capitalize, and get one on the board before the first period is over, making it 3-1.

The game slogs on until a little over half way through the second period, when the Penguins Stempniak gets whistled for a double minor high sticking call.  Shortly thereafter, the officials determined that Sutter lofted the puck over the boards, and the CBJ were awarded a full two minute 5 on 3.  In spite of great pressure, the CBJ were only able to score one, so the score at the end of two periods remained 3-2 Penguins.

Personal confession.  I have watched so much brutal hockey in that arena, that at times I forget about hope.  Fortunately, the players could care less about my neuroses, and believe in themselves.  Sure enough, with 24 seconds left in the third and the goal tender pulled for an extra skater, Brandon Dubinsky buries a goal to tie the score at 3 all.  To say that the building erupted would be a masterful understatement.  The CBJ kill off the last 24 seconds, take a break, and come out in the first overtime on fire, and Foligno (see the back of the Jersey I wear.  YEAH!!!) buries a shot for the game winner.  Four unanswered goals by the CBJ and they have their first home playoff win in franchise history.  More importantly, Jarmo and John Davidson now know how loud Nationwide Arena can really be.

I've had season tickets since the 2006-07 season.  This is the best game I have ever witnessed in Nationwide Arena.  The crowd met the same kinds of challenges that people faced in Game 4 against Detroit, but in this case the team came back and won the game in dramatic fashion.  The team was rewarded with the thunderous ovation that they richly deserve.  This one was a beauty.

The series is tied 2-2 on the strength of four 4-3 games.  Too weird.

This team continues to show its great resiliency.  Now its a best of three series.  Funny things can happen.

This team continues to lift us up with great moments.  Well done.  Well done indeed.

GO JACKETS!!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Game Three: Pens Push Back

Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in Nationwide Arena in front of a jazzed up home crowd.  The Jackets jumped the Penguins early, but failed to put them away, and slowly but inexorably the Penguins turned the tide, before putting it away in the third period.

Take aways from this game are that the Penguins played Blue Jackets hockey from midway through the second period through the end, and baited the Blue Jackets into attempting Penguins hockey in response.  The result of course, is predictable.  Poor team discipline lead to Pittsburgh taking over the offensive zone, and dominating the last half of the game, much like the CBJ did in the last game in Pittsburgh.  I thought it was an unusually poorly officiated game for a playoff game, however the refs had nothing to do with Pittsburgh putting 41 shots on the net. That was more related to the fact that they won the face offs and puck races and puck battles for the majority of the third period.

These Blue Jackets now know what Nationwide Arena can really be.  Great crowd tonight, great atmosphere.  These teams will be looking fairly evenly matched if the CBJ can respond on Wednesday with a win.  The Penguins were sure to respond after Saturday's loss.  We need to respond after tonight's loss.

This is fun.  This is awesome.  My day long meeting should be interesting with this voice tomorrow.  But strap it on, and bring it again Wednesday.  We get a day to heal.  I gotta run, I am on the road all day tomorrow.  Our boys played well enough to win, but fell down in the team discipline department.  That can be fixed.

Lather, rinse, repeat!

GO JACKETS!!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Game Two Recap: It was a tale of two overtimes

Columbus Blue Jackets 4 - Pittsburgh Penguins 3 - 2OT
Series tied at 1-1


After the first 5 minutes of tonight's game, if you had told me the CBJ would win convincingly in overtime I would have laughed at you - after having spit beer out my nose and then slapped you about the head and face.  There is getting scored on early, and then there is getting OWNED in the first 20 minutes of a hockey game.  It was like the Penguins had the cheat code to "The Blue Jackets - the video game."  To watch the first period was like watching a train driver over a cliff.  The Penguins had reached into the soul of the Blue Jackets, bathed in their insecurities, and then played them like a break-up tape from an ex-girlfriend on slo-mo repeat.  The first period was tough to watch, and full marks go to Dan Bylsma for exploiting the Blue Jackets.  You don't often see a mismatch like that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - that kind of blatant one-sidedness typically happens in Pee Wee tournament on the north side of Detroit.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Seeing The Elephant

There is an old saying about going into armed combat.  You can talk about it all you want, but until you have been there, you have not 'seen the elephant'.  Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets went into enemy territory, fought hard, but ultimately lost the battle to an apparently superior foe.  Please note that I said they lost the battle.  They have not yet lost the war.  In fact, I would suggest tonight that winning this battle would have had a detrimental effect on winning the war.  Whereas losing this battle, does not determine the outcome of the war.  Not at all.  Our guys have 'seen the elephant'.

The Pittsburgh Penguins played like a superior team.  They scored through the tiniest cracks in the Jackets defense.  In fact I'd suggest that they scored at times when there were no cracks.  They brought their game, and they played well.  Likewise, the CBJ brought their game, and they played well.  I think it would be fair to say both sides would like to have a couple of plays back.  At the end, it was tied going into the third period, Pittsburgh made a good play, and they won.  Credit to them.  But this was no blow out of inadequately matched teams.  There is, however, the possibility that Pittsburgh will regard it as such.

The dynamic of these playoffs is that the home team has to hold their serve, to use a tennis analogy.  You need to win your home games.  You have an advantage in the face off, and you have the last line change.  Technically, you should win your home games.  By virtue of being the higher seed, Pittsburgh only has to win one road game to prevail, while the CBJ need to win two.  Johnson, Letestu, and MacKenzie score tonight.  Dollars will get you donuts that different players score on Saturday.  That is the strength of the CBJ.  Likewise, the Pens can say their secondary scoring won the battle, which is true.  But will they win the war?

I tried to explain to my Dad that dumping the puck, and grinding possession is like running the football.  It conveys benefits down the road.  The Jackets did some good grinding tonight.  They need to do more on Saturday.  But they had a couple those shifts in this game, the first game.  Can they have more in the second game, and more in the third?

Pittsburgh won tonight, 4-3.  They are 25% of the way out of this series.  The next percentage points may be harder to earn.  Will they elevate their game to earn them? They may.  Or they may not.  It remains to be seen.

I am content.  It was fun.  Our guys played well, yet they lost.  That's hockey.  The other guys are good.  Make no mistake.  But you don't win them on paper.  We lost the battle, but we are undeterred.  Next Saturday should be interesting.

GO JACKETS!!!!  BATTLE ON!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It Comes Down to Bob

I've looked at a lot of posts by various people.  I've thought about it a bunch.  For the Blue Jackets to make any real headway in this series, they have to do two things.  First, play Blue Jackets hockey.  Herky-Jerky, start, stop, lot's of face offs, no flow hockey.  If we play a game of flow, we are playing Penguins hockey, and they are lots better at it than we are.

Second, Bob has to win the goal tending match-up by a pretty good margin.  He has to emerge from the series with a sub-2 Goals Against Average.  Fortunately, that's how he played down the stretch. But he probably has to play better than he did down the stretch to maintain that level in the playoffs.  And as long as it's not the first game, we can probably afford one of those games where the Pens really roll.  But if the bulk of the games are pretty tight, and it comes down to the goal tending, than we have a chance.  A slim chance, against a powerful opponent.  But they don't play them on paper.

So we go into this series with the best team we ever had.  Which makes for an interesting dynamic.  Have fun with this, ignore the Penguins fans, and cheer the Blue Jackets on.  These guys have earned that from us, and you never know, they may surprise us.

I don't know about you, but there is something really cool about having a pass for a Stanley Cup final sitting on your kitchen table.  Whether or not it is THE Stanley Cup final remains to be determined.  The hard way.

GO JACKETS!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Expectations Reload

Let's see.  Porty and the lads over at the Cannon totally beat me to a punch on looking at the regular season Pens games.  So I thought I'd offer something a bit different.  I've been asked a couple of times by the guys at Full Tilt Rangers to comment on things from my CBJ perspective.  Last week they asked me for my expectations for the playoffs.  The following is the article that popped out of my head at that time.

I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own
Anthony asked me to do a quick blog post about the Columbus Blue Jackets making the 2013-14 Stanley Cup playoffs, and my expectations for the team.  My nom de plume is Gallos, and I write for a Blue Jackets blog called The Dark Blue Jacket, and I am a long time season ticket holder.  I decided to use the classic Mythbusters  phrase as my title, because I think that there is something surreal  for many NHL fans about seeing the Blue Jackets in the playoffs.  I expect this is especially true for the New Jersey and Washington fans. 

It is well documented that prior to this year, the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs one time, only to be eliminated in 4 games by the Detroit Redwings.  Few understand the dynamic that fueled the Redwings desire to bring their best game to bear against the Blue Jackets.  After all, the prior two regular season games, the Redwings had dispatched the Blue Jackets with ease, bringing all of their considerable talent to bear, as well as their top effort.  The reason the Redwings were so motivated, was the previous game, in which the Blue Jackets laid an 8-2 ass whipping on the Redwings in the Joe.  In that game, Rick Nash had an unassisted hat trick, a feat last accomplished by the incomparable Rocket Richard.  What was never spoken publicly, but was evident for several years, was that Mike Babcock took that very personally.  His team didn’t show up that day, and he whipped them mercilessly with that day for years.  That was the last time for a long time that the Redwings didn’t show up against the Blue Jackets. 

But that was your big brother’s Blue Jackets.  Only three players remain from that 2008-09 team that made the playoffs, Jared Boll, RJ Umberger, and former Ranger Fedor Tyutin.  Since that time, this team has literally plunged to the bottom of the NHL standings, necessitating a turn of the page.  This year’s team is made up of heart and soul players, and the emerging talent of 2 rookies and a budding superstar, all acquired through trades, free agency and the draft. 

The key moment in the reshaping of the Blue Jackets organization was hiring Craig Patrick as an advisor to the general manager.  When asked by a season ticket holder in his ‘meet and greet’ what he valued most in a player, he emphatically stated that he valued a player’s character.  He said ‘you can find skill, it’s harder to find character’.  The current incarnation of the Blue Jackets has that philosophy at its core, and the team is made up of heart and soul players, who play well as a team, and are committed to a defensively sound system, and an incredible work ethic.  At the foundation of the teams work ethic is Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina winning goal tender, who brings a tireless work ethic every day.

At this time, Craig Patrick has moved on to the Buffalo organization to help them the same way he helped the Blue Jackets.  John Davidson has come on as President of Hockey Operations, and brought in new General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen.  JD and Craig Patrick go WAY back, and Patrick’s departure from the organization is more about him going somewhere he is needed, since JD and Jarmo fundamentally agree with his philosophies. 

The current incarnation of the Blue Jackets is built on a foundation of excellent goal tending, good team defense, a grinding offensive forecheck, and opportunistic scoring.  It should be noted that with two games remaining, this team has set the franchise records for goals in a season, wins in a season, and road wins in a season.  But its foundation is its work ethic. 

This team’s record for this season is clear.  It has been dominated by the elite teams.  Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago fared very well against the Blue Jackets.  But it’s the second season.  These teams no longer get to breeze into town, get the win, and head out of town.  They have to stick for a seven game series, so they had better have a tireless work ethic to bring to a long series.  The Blue Jackets are going to grind on you, in true playoff style, and that work ethic is an integral part of their character now.  Bobrovsky is hot, and no one really knows Ryan Johansen’s ceiling, or just how difficult it will be to play against Boone Jenner in the playoffs.  One thing is clear, whoever the CBJ play is not going to have the advantage of having an offended Mike Babcock wielding his whip arm with cunning strength. 

So my expectation for the Blue Jackets is that I am going to let my hair down, cheer like a mad man for my team, and take what comes.  The 2008-09 Blue Jackets sort of stumbled into the playoffs.  This year’s team may be peaking.  I might be wrong, but they are looking like a tough out for the higher seed this year.
I’m very proud of what this group of players and the coaching staff has accomplished.  It is a fundamentally sound group.  You can beat them sometimes in a game.  Can you beat them in a series?

GO JACKETS!!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

CBJ Success

This is a bit of a strange time for Blue Jackets fans and bloggers.  Normally, we are turning our thoughts to the 'year in review' type of post, dissecting the many things that went wrong, pondering possible draft picks.  Not this year.  This year, we are pondering a first round match-up with the Metropolitan Division champion Pittsburgh Penguins.  On paper, this looks like a tough go for the home squad.  But that's why you play the games.

Before we start pondering that match-up, I'd like to spend a bit of time discussing the 2013-14 Columbus Blue Jackets.  Much like the 2008-09 team has defined success for the last 5 years, this team has redefined success.  Moving forward, if you want to talk about a successful Blue Jackets squad, it will be in the context of this years team.  Some of this years successes are:

Most wins, finishing 43-32-7.
Most road wins with 22(?)
Most points, with 93.
Longest winning streak, 8 games.
Fifth in goals per season (tied with Nash), Ryan Johansen with 33(!!).
Most points by a Defenseman, James Wisniewski, with 51.
Bobrovsky finishes with a 2.38 GAA  and a .923 save percentage in 58 games.  He was better than that down the stretch.

This team has defined success for the franchise.  And they are not done yet.  When they take the ice Wednesday or Thursday, they will be the most rested they have been since March 1.  That may have a beneficial impact on team discipline and structure.

Later on, I will want to spend some time dissecting the season series with Pittsburgh.  But for now, I think its important to celebrate the many accomplishments of this team.  Well done lads.  Well done indeed!

GO JACKETS!!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Standings Stasis

Tonight the Tampa Bay Lightening snapped the Blue Jackets 3 game winning streak by defeating the good guys by a 3-2 score.  Curtis McElhinney, starting the first game of a back to back, had some ill luck and some strange bounces cost him a couple of goals, and ultimately the game.  Both teams played well, and it was a hard fought game; sometimes the bounces just don't go your way.  Strangely, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Detroit Redwings 2-1 tonight, so the CBJ still sit in the First Wildcard Spot, with a first round match-up against Pittsburgh for now.  Philadelphia plays Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon.  That could make things interesting.  So it's all good.

1. The first, frosty cold CBJ Playoff Beer for tonight goes to Boone Jenner.  Jenner scored the first goal for the CBJ to tie the game momentarily, a good push to the net down the slot on the power play.  Jack Johnson put the puck hard on his tape and he just steered it in.  Later in the third period, he returned the favor to David Savard, who buried the second goal, to bring the Jackets within a goal, and make the last few minutes interesting.  Boone seems to be on an accelerating arc in his play in the last few games, sort of assuming some of the leadership mantle now that it is known that Horton is out for the rest of the year.  His 16th goal, Jenner has had a rookie season that far exceeds expectations.  The cool thing is that the trip to the playoffs will solidify the experience from this year.  This guy is going to be a load for years to come if he stays fundamentally healthy.  Great stuff.

2. The second, sweet, clear CBJ Playoff Beer goes to Curtis McElhinney, for playing well enough in a very difficult role that Richie trusted him enough to send him out tonight.  To me, the extra day of rest is critical for Bobrovsky.  Bob gets Florida tomorrow, which is good, otherwise he might go a long time without seeing the puck shot at game speed, as we might not play again until Thursday.  When Bob got injured, CMac and Mike McKenna held down the fort until he healed, winning some critical games that helped put us in the playoffs.  Good work there CMac.  Your reward is playoff hockey!

3. My third, delicious CBJ Playoff Beer goes to Nathan Horton, who had surgery to repair a lower body injury today.  I can't believe the dude played in the Phoenix game, but his handling of a Johansen pass, and a little bunny of a set up for Boone Jenner got us that first goal in that game.  The guy was playing on one leg, but he still gave it a go.  Enjoy this CBJ Playoff Beer as you recuperate Nathan.  What this team has shown this year is who they are.  Yes, people have had career years, but this CBJ product is eminently repeatable. They didn't put this together with a phenomenal 19-5-5 run like last year.  Rather it has been steady winning play since the new year.  Heal up, and plan on getting a full, healthy year in next year.  But don't dawdle, because these playoffs are funny things.  You never know what will happen.

4. My fourth, not too cold, not too warm, just right CBJ Playoff Beer goes to Lori Schmidt.  You will forever have my gratitude for 'piling on' Scott Arniel, and helping to rid us of that mistake.  But the real reason I'm giving you this beer is for posting this audio clip from the Phoenix game on your blog "Fear the Hat'.  There are two things about that audio clip that are worthy of note.  The first is the loud C-B-J chant.  This is the first, different, organic, crowd grown chant that I have seen grow in Nationwide Arena.  I love the solid 'Let's go Jackets', but that C-B-J chant cannot be mistaken for any other team's chant.  This will be an important tool in the crowd tool belt moving into the playoffs.  The second is the roar of the crowd when Joey scores that winning goal.  In the Arena, that roar has a pure, ringing quality to it.  I've heard it before, but it's only recently started to reoccur.  Hint:  There's going to be more of that going on in the next few weeks.

5.  This fifth, hard earned CBJ Playoff Beer goes to our colleague Morgan over at DKM hockey.  A Rangers fan started to give him some guff on Twitter today, implying that the CBJ would be an easy out for the Rangers.  His reply: 'The CBJ want the Rangers like a fat kid wants cake...".  End of trolling.  I would happily trade the Flyers a Pittsburgh series for a series with the Rangers.  Maybe that wouldn't turn out well for us.  But maybe.....

6. This sixth, ginormous CBJ Playoff Beer goes to the 2013-14 Columbus Blue Jackets players and coaches.  This has been a really fun season to follow you, and watch you grow.  A record setting season that we will talk about in the off season at more length.  Thanks for the ride.  It's been a beauty.  I can't wait for the rest of it.

Life is a funny thing.  I totally support my colleague, the Dark Blue Jacket, in his decision to drop the writing responsibilities for his family.  But I am at a different point in my life.  My boys have graduated from college, and are working stiffs now.  It goes without saying that I am proud as Nebuchadnezzar of them.  But they take care of themselves now.  So my time pressures are totally different.

Maintaining a blog is a funny thing.  The need for fresh content is real, as folks ought to have a reasonable chance of seeing something worth reading when they take the trouble to click on your link.  I don't know how its going to go without the DBJ filling those gaps.  Morgan will chime in when he can, but his time demands, and the good work he does on DKM hockey may keep him away for extended periods.  So there it is.

We do this for fun.  And this has been a real fun team to write about, in spite of the occasional outburst of immature petulance <whistles innocently>.  And now we are in the playoffs!  How much more fun can it get?

We have Florida in the final game of the regular season tomorrow, then we find out on Sunday who we play, and when.  Hang on to your hats folks.  The ride is just beginning.

GO JACKETS!!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Full circle

This blog launched just under five years ago as a means for a newborn's father to relax, have fun, keep his mind sharp and spend time thinking about something other than diapers and nap scheduling.  It's grown beyond my wildest imagination, with over 1,500 posts and a host of friends as valued co-contributors.

My young family expanded by two about a year and a half ago, and life now is very different than it was when I started the Dark Blue Jacket blog.  It is no longer conducive to researching, writing and publishing volumes of content on a regular schedule.  It no longer lets me set aside three-plus hour blocks of time on over eighty occasions a year, not to mention training camp visits, practice observations, etc.  It makes the simple act of watching a full game on TV an impossibility (gotta read those bedtime stories and put the kids to bed)...and the notion of attending a game in person has become a question of how many brownie points I've accumulated with my overburdened spouse.  I've tried to keep up the past level of activity, but it's worn me down.  I had to jettison CannonFest duties last summer, but clearly that wasn't enough.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Response

Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets responded to a tough loss Friday night with a 4-0 shut out win by Sergei Bobrovsky to answer the Islanders beating the CBJ on the Island seven games ago.  This was an incredibly important 2 points in regulation by the CBJ, in a 'game in hand' on most of the competition.  This game was the power play, BOB (shouted in capital letters), and the Islanders.  The only reason they didn't end up with any goals is the compete level of Sergei Bobrovsky.  I might note that Boone Jenner only had his composure with regards to physical play that kept him from a Gordy Howe hat trick.  If you care about this team, one of the huge reasons you want it to make the playoffs is for the lessons that Johansen and Boone Jenner will learn.  A solid win tonight, in spite of the lack of solid play (please don't take that as criticism of the team or their effort, but it was a weird night).  One thing that can be said is that the Jackets buried their chances.

1.  The first CBJ beer goes to my buddy Bill, who shoved me down in his haste to get to the puck that was laying behind Nilsson, the Islanders goalie. I'm pretty sure if he wouldn't have pushed me down I'd have made it out of the upper deck and over the glass to kick that one in.  Fortunately, Boone Jenner had position on us both, and finished it off before any D-men could get there.  So Bill will have to share this beer with Boone.  Honestly though, we should make this one a quart for them to share, as Boone was all over the ice tonight.  JUST WAIT TILL HE GROWS UP!!! :-)

2.  The Second CBJ Beer, but really the first if you ignore the fictitious BS above goes to Sergei Bobrovsky.  Bob was under pressure all night long, had his stick whacked away for significant stretches of play, but still came through with a shut out.  Bob is proving that the Vezina award us not a fluke.  He won't win it this year, which is okay.  Lundquist and Rask both play for better teams.  Which doesn't have much to do with earning the Vezina, it just has more to do with winning it.  Don't get me wrong.  Those guys are both highly deserving of the award, and I'm not sure if I would agree that Bob deserves to win it in back to back years.  But we would be screwed without Bob.

3. Having said all that in the second beer, I can't ignore Curtis McHelinney's role in this team's success.  When Bob has gone down, CMac and Mike McKenna have played well in his stead.  Nabokov went down for the Islanders and their season was done.  CMac has plugged the holes in the dike to keep us in this race.  We ain't forgettin'.

4.  The fourth beer, which should really be the third, if you follow my logic, goes to the power play.  Three power play goals is nice redemption and a momentum builder for a unit that has struggled at times this year.  Boone Jenner, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Murray all scored power play goals.  Those were all huge momentum goals, and kept the physicality of the game from escalating out of control.  Very sweet stuff.

5. This fifth CBJ beer goes to Mark Letestu, the test tube.  The inverted test tube makes a wonderful plugger of holes, and that's how Richie has used Letestu all year.  While Letestu has not equalled his goal output of the abbreviated campaign of last year, he has exceeded his assist total.  Richie has not hesitated to bench those whose play does not quite fit with what he wants to see, but Letestu continues to play.  I think that speaks for itself.  He has had an extremely solid season.

6. My sixth CBJ beer goes for the agony and the ecstasy of a playoff run.  I can hardly bear to watch the games.  Yet this is what I desired.  I love it.  It hurts.  I love the hurt.  I hurt the love.  Dang, I'm so confused I need a shrink!  Four more games.  HUGE points tonight!  GO JACKETS!!!  GO JACKETS!!!

This is what we have waited so long for.  I love it.  Except for the losses, in which case propriety may go out the door.  Sorry, but it hurts.

But we won tonight!!  <glow>

GO JACKETS!!!