The Sports Page: CBJ and The Crew Reviews
Columbus Blue Jackets Week in Review:
Welcome back to the playoff race, Columbus. In ten years of Blue Jackets hockey, this is arguably only the second legitimate playoff push in Ohio’s capital. Having lived through some seasons like this in Northeast Ohio, I felt it was my responsibility to share with you my Rules of Playoff Fever as a brief refresher of proper etiquette.
1. Every Game Matters: There are no more “emotional victories,” no more “teaching moments.” There are only two groups: pretenders and contenders. Those tough, last second losses can really gall you later.
2. You Love the Eastern Conference: Absolutely love ‘em, especially when they are playing a Western Conference foe. With so many clubs between Columbus and a date with Stanley, secondary allegiances can change nightly. But one feeling should be constant, if the matchup pits a division opponent versus an Eastern Conference foe, you root for the other conference.
3. Don’t Get Too Emotional: I don’t want to see anyone shooting off fireworks after a win or using an entire box of Kleenex after a loss. There is a good amount of flexibility at this time of year and minor swings are to be expected. Stay at an even keel, but keep one eye on the standings at all times. Leave celebrating/breakdowns for the end of the season.
4. If you are from Cleveland, stock up on booze and ice cream
For the first 41 minutes and 11 seconds of Tuesday’s game against Nashville, the Columbus Blue Jackets were knocking on the door. Then Rick Nash kicked it in. The Captain bookended the scoring during a CBJ-themed third period in a 4-0 victory over the Predators. Matt Calvert converted a power play goal three minutes later, Antoine Vermette added a tally for good measure, and Nash put in his second goal on a power play with less than a minute to go. Then there is Steve Mason. The Columbus keeper was on his game all night, recording his 18th career NHL clean sheet. The Unionmen were nearly perfect in the final period as the Predators only managed three shots on goal. Mason denied all twenty shots that came his way during the contest. Columbus defended their home ice again the following Friday.
They hit the ice slowly at first, a few caps on each side of the ice. Then the crowd gained momentum and Nationwide Arena was littered with as many hats as a high school graduation; all for young Matt Calvert. The 21-year-old rookie came up huge in only his twentieth NHL game, scoring three goals and an assist in a 5-3 CBJ win over Phoenix. In the first period, Coyotes struck quickly, gaining a two goal lead before the Unionmen went to work. RJ Umberger and Jakub Voracek each netted a power play goal to even the tallies at two apiece at the end of the first period. Rookie Matt Calvert scored two goals during the second period, the latter of which was a very slick mid-air swing that would have made Joey Votto (or Asdrubal Cabrera) proud. Three minutes and twenty-seven seconds into the final period, Calvert struck paydirt for the third time. Play stopped for a full ten minutes as hundreds of hats, caps, and headpieces fluttered onto the ice. The full-throated 16,771 in attendance showed their approval with a prolonged standing ovation. Eventually the PA announcer had to ask the fans to stop throwing objects on the ice. Once again, CBJ keeper Steve Mason was splendid in the contest, saving 25 shots in the night. Mason has been stepping up his game at the right part of the season, boasting a 7-1 record in his last eight starts. Phoenix scored a third goal near the end of regulation but by that time the issue was no longer in doubt. The final horn sounded and Columbus found themselves two points richer. The open road lay ahead of them.
To say the Blue Jackets have struggled recently in Tennessee is an understatement. Going into Sunday’s matinee, the Predators had bested Columbus in 15 consecutive home contests, having not lost a home game to CBJ since 2006. Three periods later, that streak would be up to 16 as Columbus dropped a 3-2 heart-breaker to the Predators. After a fruitless first period, Columbus engineered a scrum near the goal that they believed ended with the puck crossing the line. One (lengthy) review later, the good people in Toronto decided that there was no goal and the game remained scoreless. Matt Calvert changed that a few minutes later with a power-play goal. The third period was ripe with scoring. Nashville netted two to take the lead until Kris Russell’s power-play equalizer with under eight minutes to go. Just when it seemed that the game would be heading to overtime, a Columbus man advantage ended with Nashville streaking down ice and David Legwand slamming the puck in after a deflection off Mathieu Garon’s pad. However, Columbus does not have the luxury of returning home after such a tough defeat and must instead continue their western odyssey.
Let us take a look at how the Jackets are positioned at the end of this past week:
Columbus remains in the twelfth seed and is only four points behind Dallas for the eighth seed. With 21 games left to play, Columbus still controls its own destiny but the margin for error is razor thin. Their next big test is forthcoming.
If there is to be a “make or break” moment for the Jackets – a time when we will look back years from now and say “that’s where it all went wrong/right” – it may be the next week. The next four games for the Pride of Nationwide will all be played on the road, visiting Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and St. Louis. Vancouver boasts the best record in the entire League, Edmonton has the potential to be a classic trap game, Calgary is fighting with Columbus for a playoff spot, and the Good Guys tend to struggle in Missouri. If Columbus can stand strong through the next week (going shall we say 3-0-1 or better) it will go a long way in establishing themselves as the team that no one wants to play. The alternative is another beardless spring.
The New Guy:
In an effort to bolster Columbus’ blue line, General Manager Scott Howson picked up veteran defenseman Craig Rivet off waivers from the Buffalo Sabres. The 36-year-old has spent the past three seasons in Buffalo and has also worn jerseys for the Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks. In 909 career games, Rivet has 236 points (49 goals and 187 assists). Rivet has also played in 69 career playoff games and his leadership and years of experience were major factors in Howson’s decision to acquire the former captain. Rivet has joined the team but did not play against the Predators.
Columbus Crew Week in Review:
At the end of regulation the scoreboard read 0-0; it may as well have been a thermometer. The Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake ended Tuesday night’s game in a frigid stalemate for the first leg of the CONCACAF quarterfinals at Columbus Crew Stadium. On a night when the only heat seemed to come from under the collars of the competitors on the pitch (three total players were ejected and with wind chill it felt like 19 degrees), both the Crew and Real held their own to set up the determining game on March 1st in Utah. The game was characterized by relentless defense which was not surprising since RSL and Columbus finished first the seventh respectively in goals allowed last season. How staunch was the defense? The Crew managed only one shot on target on the night and Salt Lake had neither a corner kick nor a legitimate shot on goal during the entire contest.
There was little to report after the game. The Crew took a man advantage when Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran was ejected in the 53rd minute. Despite the extra player, Columbus could not mount a quality attack on their opponents. During the 72nd minute a flurry of elbows ended with ejections for the Crew’s Emilio Renteria and Real’s Nat Borchers.
Despite having a few playable balls in the box, Columbus was unable to maintain a consistent offense. These two teams will again faceoff on Tuesday. Since neither team scored in Ohio, if one team is up after ninety minutes that team shall advance. If the game ends in a deadlock, there will be two fifteen-minute overtime periods followed by a shootout. The forecast for Tuesday in Salt Lake City is 46 degrees. Hopefully the Crew’s offense will be thawed by then.
Corey Barnes is a third year at The Ohio State University studying business. He hails from Cleveland, Ohio and has a profound understanding of sports suffering and mediocrity. In addition to this column, he also writes sports things at buckeyenerd.tumblr.com and can be followed on The Twitter @Corey_Barnes.
Blue Jackets game photos from bluejackets.nhl.com.
Crew Photography was provided by Matt Ellis at Three-Songs Photography.