The Columbus Blue Jackets are playing a playoff game TONIGHT! While recent history makes this statement more common in Columbus (4 of the past 6 seasons have resulted in post season play) most of us can remember many, many years where there were no playoffs. This is a chance for us as fans to celebrate a team that has become a perennial playoff team (at least 3 seasons in a row now). As most believe an exodus of UFAs may result in a rebuilding year(s), thus not having any playoffs to get excited about next season.
Tonight, the records are all reset to 0-0. On paper the TBL have an advantage in most-if-not-all categories. They also hold home ice advantage and the psychological advantage of having torched the CBJ in all three meetings this season. It’s a good thing they don’t play hockey on paper and that those 3 previous meetings don’t count in this series. All regular season advantages have been erased and there are seven games to decide who moves on.
Is it a realistic expectation for the Jackets to win this series? No. But, is it impossible? Again, no. Everyone with even the slightest opinion about hockey agrees that this series is already over. Given that the CBJ are going to lose what should our expectations be for the series? Would it be a success if they don’t get swept? Do they need to at least force a Game 7 for the fans and management to be happy?
My perspective as a fan is that taking a couple of games from TBL would be a success. I have followed this team all season and have felt the ups and downs. When they are great, they can beat TBL, when they are less than great it will not happen. Playing as an underdog can give you an edge, but the gap between these two teams is huge. These statements aside, I am excited to watch the Union Blue take the first step to shocking the hockey world tonight.
All eyes will be on CBJ @ TBL for at least 30 minutes tonight. This season Columbus has struggled even in the dim spotlight of a nationally televised game on NBCSN. Energy will be high for the CBJ and should be a struggle for TBL to match initially. C-Bus needs to make sure not to spend all their energy in the first 10 minutes of the game. Tampa is expected to come out cool, calm and collected, weathering the storm for a period and then taking over the game.
1. Do the Jackets score in the initial surge? They have struggled with this all season. Puck control and chances are good, but actually burying one early could set the tone for the game.
2. TBL’s counterattacks. Odd-man rushes and allowing Kucherov to leak out behind the defense will be costly if the CBJ continues that trend.
3. Turnovers. The Bolts will make you pay if you fire a pizza pie down the middle of the ice trying to clear the zone. High risk passes out or in the neutral zone are not acceptable this time of year and will land you a seat on the bench and in a golf cart if you are not careful.
As reported on the Jackets website* Dubois will be on the top line and Duchene will be between Dzingel and Anderson. Wennberg finds a seat in the stands making way for Texier to get some playoff experience. Still no McQuaid or Murray (wondering if his season is finished?). Recent signees Peeke and Merzlikins as well as callup Clandening are scratches.
Can the CBJ take Game 1? They have to win one @ TBL if they want to take the series. Why not the first one?
*line up reference: https://www.nhl.com/bluejackets/news/cbj-2019-round-one-game-one-game-preview/c-306627264