By Tom T
‘The odds are not good’, this is the best response you can get from anyone outside of Columbus about the Jackets’ chances of advancing over TBL. Before we get too far into analyzing this first-round matchup let’s talk about the CBJ’s finish to the season.
How they finished
The month of March seemed to be hazardous to the health of CBJ fans. One day they were in the playoffs, the next they were out and so this went on for the entire month. In hindsight they were 9-6-1 for the month and 11-7-1 to close the season (March and April). In the last 10 of the season CBJ were 7-3, winning 5 in a row in that stretch, 7 wins in their last 8 and sweeping a back-to-back road trip over NYR and OTT to secure a playoff spot. Their reward, the TBL with a record (T) 62 wins.
The ‘expert’ predictions
Not a single hockey sportswriter (outside Columbus and most here too) has given the CBJ a chance at winning. The one series prediction that they all have in common is TBL over CBJ. And with good reason, here are their head-to-head match ups from this season all TBL victories:
October 13 @TBL L 8 – 2
January 8 @TBL L 4 – 0
February 18 @CBJ L 5 – 1
Not one of these games was competitive. Bob played in the first two with Korpi taking the February tilt. Reason one not to pick the CBJ, they have not shown that they can hang with TBL.
Then there is this mythical creature they call ‘Playoff Bob’. He apparently comes out only in the month of April and struggles to catch, block, deflect or otherwise prevent a 6-ounce rubber disc from crossing a red line. Reason #2 is Bob’s playoff struggles.
History. Columbus has the dubious honor of being the only franchise in the NHL (although the Thrashers get a pass because they became WPG) to never have won a playoff series. An OT loss last year in Game 3 with Washington could have had that series going a whole lot differently if a shot off the post had found its way home and another shot that ping-ponged off a defenseman’s leg had stayed out. But as it is, hockey is a game of inches and bad bounces. That is reason 3.
How it could, would and should happen
I am no prognosticator, expert or anything more than a fan who gets the honor (for the moment) of writing about his beloved hockey team. I’m not going to breakdown the matchup line vs line or speak about one obscure metric that proves the CBJ will take the series. My job as a fan is to stay positive about my team’s chances until the bitter end.
Go to NHL.com and click on STATS. TBL player and team stats are all over the leader boards. Kucherov is 28 points ahead of the next player skating in the playoffs, Marchand and Crosby. Vasilevskiy is top 10 in every goalie category. The only CBJ player on that page is Bob with 9 shutouts. And most fans in Columbus wanted him traded at the deadline. That is the bad.
The good (sort of). In the last 10 years there has only been one team to win the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup (2013 CHI in a shortened season). Three teams lost in the first round (SJS 09, WAS 10, VAN 12) and 7 were out by the end of the second round. Only two made the Cup final with the aforementioned Blackhawks being the only winner. All of this is stated to say that all the pressure is on TBL. Even the 96 Redwings, who also had 62 wins, didn’t win the Cup.
History is against the TBL, I hate to say, as I have documented above. If that is the case, who is it that will beat them? WAS, BOS, CGY? CGY had 50 wins this season followed by BOS (49) and WAS (48). Oh, then the Jackets with 47. Just looking at the W column only those three teams and the NYI (48) and TBL (62) had more wins than C-Bus. Why can’t the 47-win Columbus Blue Jackets not be that team?
There are six players auditioning for HUGE contracts on the UFA market and 7 current roster RFAs looking for a raise. Thirteen players would love to have more than 4 additional games to showcase their skills to the league and upper management. These are not all role-player-type-guys either. We all know the big names, but I am going to list all of them for those not so familiar with the Jackets roster. UFAs: Duchene, Panarin, Dzingel, McQuaid, Bobrovsky and Kinkaid. RFAs: Robinson, Sedlak, Murray, Werenski, Clandening, Harrington and Korpisalo. This is a large crop of guys playing for their next contract, as if winning in the Cup playoffs is not enough motivation.
‘That’s why they play the games.’ ‘Everyone loves an underdog.’ ‘Who is this year’s Cinderella?’ Can Columbus be this story in the NHL playoffs. Most will say ‘no’ but, we are about to find out. Let the playoffs begin…