The Sports Page: CBJ and The Crew Reviews
Columbus Blue Jackets Week in Review:
Do not panic. Please remain calm, ladies and gentlemen. Now is no time to lose our heads, despair, and give up on this club. I will admit, today is a tough day to be an optimistic Blue Jackets fan. The most recent road trip (which, if you recall, I predicted to be a make or break experience for the club) proved to perhaps be more break than make. This morning, Columbus looks up at the playoffs from an uncomfortable seven points out of the eighth and final seed. So how did we get here? It all started in a mystical land called Canada…
There was a time when Raffi Torres scored and Columbus cheered. Not anymore. Torres snuck the puck past CBJ keeper Steve Mason in Round 8 of a shootout Monday night in Vancouver to give the Canucks a 2-1 win over the Jackets. Considering that Vancouver has the most points in the National Hockey League, the Jackets can hang their hat on the fact that they pushed them the whole game. Vancouver got on the board during the first period thanks to a Mason Raymond goal. Scottie Upshall, recently acquired from Phoenix, did his best to win over the favors of the Ohio faithful by netting the equalizer during the second period. Neither team was able to score in either the third period or the five-minute overtime. Then came the marathon shootout. Rick Nash shot first for the Unionmen and scored, followed by a flurry of misses and saves. Mason Raymond (yes the same Mason Raymond) bested Steve Mason to tie the score at one after three rounds. The fourth round saw a pair of saves. The fifth and sixth rounds, two pairs of goals. After RJ Umberger was stonewalled, Torres got the better of Steve Mason meaning the Good Guys would leave Vancouver with only one point. They could have had two.
When looking at the schedule, always be leery of games that automatically make you think, “Well, we will definitely win this one” because reality does not always meet expectation. Just ask the Blue Jackets. The Pride of Nationwide was defeated 4-2 by the last-place Oilers in Edmonton last Thursday. The Oilers, playing for little more than pride, simply wanted the win more. They struck early and often, staking claim to a two goals to nil lead after one period. Less than one minute into the second period, they had pushed their advantage to 3-0. Coach Scott Arniel had seen enough from Steve Mason after the third goal and pulled the youngster for keeper Mathieu Garon. Garon responded by saving all 23 shots he saw. The Flag Carriers refused to quit. Jan Hejda scored in the second period, and newcomer Scottie Upshall made it two goals in two games with a third period score. Columbus never got any closer than that however, and the final margin was set after Edmonton scored an empty net goal with less than a minute to go. Sadly, there was no rest for the weary, and the Great White North was not yet done with the Jackets.
Officially, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ season ends on Saturday April 9th. Depending on how the next two weeks play out we may be able to argue that the season ended with 9 minutes 51 seconds left in the second period in Calgary last Friday. That was when the Flames scored their second power play goal in a 1:21 span on their way to a 4-3 victory over the Good Guys. The game was tied at two thanks to a pair of goals by Craig Rivet (his first wearing Union Blue) and Antoine Vermette when the latter was assessed a double minor for high sticking. The Flames came out sticks blazing and took advantage of the aforementioned consecutive power plays. In less than two minutes the entire complexion of the game changed. Columbus’s Jan Hejda managed his second goal in as many games in the third period but it was just not enough. Columbus had one last chance to tie the game when Vermette had a penalty shot midway through the third, but he was denied by Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff. Columbus outshot the Flames 16-4 in the final period but Kiprusoff was masterful finishing with 37 saves on the night. The Jackets finally left Canada but are still on the road.
The Pride of Nationwide return to action Monday night against the Blues in St. Louis. They will then return to Ohio to play those same Blues on Wednesday and stay in town for a date with the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. The week rounds out with a trip to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Saturday. This team is reeling. They have dropped four consecutive games, being outscored 13-8. More importantly, their playoff chances are plummeting. Take a look.
The Jackets have fallen from being four games out a week ago to seven games out today. They are sitting on a four game losing streak, all on the road, and have four games in the next six days. This club needs to wake up immediately and string multiple wins together if it wants to continue entertaining playoff dreams. Remember Columbus, now is not the time to press the panic button. Though it couldn’t hurt to remember where it is.
So Long, Rusty:
I ask for your forgiveness ahead of time. I am not a native of Columbus – imported from Cleveland – and have only recently come to follow the Columbus Blue Jackets. So when Rostislav Klesla, the last of the Original Jackets, was traded to Phoenix on Monday I did not understand the significance of what had happened. I looked at the New Jackets: winger Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto. On paper they are valuable additions, brought in explicitly to fuel a CBJ stretch run and hopefully set up plenty of games in late April. Klesla’s production has been down the past three seasons playing in only 105 of 225 possible games. It was only when someone compared Rusty to the Browns’ Phil Dawson that I began to understand. An inaugural player, or really any athlete whose identity is synonymous with the team has a special resonance with the fans. All franchises have certain players who have seen both boom and bust. Fans associate with them because these players understand the long-term ebb and flow of fanhood. As bittersweet as it may be to see Rusty make the playoffs for another team, at least Columbus can take solace in knowing one of her adopted sons made it.
Columbus Crew Week in Review:
Utah is not kind to the Black and Gold. Real Salt Lake pushed their home winning streak to 34 straight games with a heavy handed 4-1 thrashing of the Columbus Crew. Though they were eliminated from CONCACAF play, Columbus fans can take solace in knowing that these losses will not count against the Crew in the MLS standings. Real Salt Lake played a possession game for the first half en route to a two-to-nil lead. An Andres Mendoza goal near the start of the second half of play offered a glimmer of hope for the Crew but Real midfielder Javier Morales shut and locked that window with his second goal of the night in the 77th minute. Salt Lake’s Andy Williams accounted for the final tally during stoppage time at the end of the game. The Crew have this week off in anticipation of the first regular season game against D.C. United in our nation’s capital Saturday March 19th. One can only hope they will use the time off to put together a better showing next time.
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.
Columbus Crew game photos from www.thecrew.com.