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The Sports Page: CBJ Review, Crew Preview

 Corey Barnes
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Columbus Blue Jackets Week in Review:

Last Wednesday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets faced off against the Los Angeles Kings hoping for two points and an upward move in the standings. They had to settle for one. The Kings prevailed in a shootout, winning by a final tally of 4-3. Both teams scored one goal in each period including shots made by Jakub Voracek, Rick Nash, and Kris Russell for Columbus.

With a mere 83 seconds left in the game, CBJ keeper Mathieu Garon was leaving the ice for a sixth skater. He did not get a chance to sit down as Russell found the net to force overtime. Five fruitless minutes later, the game was heading to a shootout. Kings’ net minder Jonathon Quick was sensational, denying all three Columbus shooters. Garon allowed Jarrett Stoll to score leaving the Jackets with one point on the night.

No matter how this season unfolds for the Columbus Blue Jackets, one thing is certain: this team plays with heart. Exhibit A – RJ Umberger. The Alternate was on the wrong end of a leg-on-leg collision with the Kings’ Jarret Stoll during the first period and had to leave the game. However, ever the competitor, he would return during the second period. Umberger was noticeably hurt but played his role when Coach Scott Arniel called his number. With the score tied at three approaching the sixtieth minute of play, Los Angeles had the puck and was looking at firing the final shot before the horn sounded. Willie Mitchell had possession on the left point and set up a thunderous slap shot but keeper Mathieu Garon never had to move. RJ Umberger threw his already injured self at the puck, blocked the shot, and sent the game to overtime.

Plays like that don’t end up on the scorecard; there is no column that reads “intangibles.” It is nearly impossible to quantify how the tempo changes when Grant Clitsome is quarterbacking a power-play, how the arena takes a collective breath when The Captain has the puck in space, or how loud the building gets when Mason builds his wall in the crease denying attackers again and again. Fans generally want one of two things: either for their team to win or for them to play with pride if they lose. Recently, the Blue Jackets have been doing both. Their window to get into the playoffs is slim but it can be done. Even if the Jackets miss the playoffs, the city should be proud of their club.

One of my favorite quotes from Woody Hayes is, “There’s nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you.” If that is true, then there were some pretty pristine souls at Nationwide Arena after the Chicago Blackhawks showed up the Blue Jackets 7-4 on February 1. Since then, Columbus has been assembling points like Legos, accumulating a 5-2-1 record heading into last Friday’s matchup with the ‘Hawks in the Windy City. With their 4-3 win, CBJ picked up two more crucial points. Matt Calvert struck first to put the Arch City ahead, but a pair of Patrick Kane goals gave Chicago the lead at the first intermission. The second period, however, belonged to the Blue Jackets. Antoine Vermette scored a power-play goal, Derek MacKenzie found the net, and defenseman Anton Stralman marked a tally on the Jackets’ second power-play goal of the night. Patrick Kane added a Chicago goal to round out the scoring in the frantic second period. Columbus keeper Steve Mason stonewalled the ‘Hawks for the final twenty minutes, blocking all ten Chicago shots and earning the win.

Developing a reputation as a road warrior is a tall order in the National Hockey League, considering how well most teams play on friendly ice. In the Western Conference, only three teams have a winning percentage below .500 at home – Columbus, Colorado, and Edmonton. This trend makes the Jackets’ recent road successes all the more impressive. With Friday’s 4-3 victory over the Blackhawks, the Unionmen have now reeled off six consecutive road wins dating back to January 19th. Their opponents in those wins are a combined 102-59-20 at home. Establishing themselves as a strong road team is important for a Jackets stretch run as points become increasingly valuable in the congested standings. Take a look at where the playoff hopefuls are positioned at the conclusion of play Sunday:

Your eyes do not deceive you, there are in fact four teams all tied with 68 points. Unfortunately, the Flag Carriers are not in the thickest part of the hunt. With so many teams vying for a chance to dance with Stanley, the contenders are going to soon be separated from the pretenders. The four points separating Columbus from the heart of the pack need to be made up as soon as possible. To be blunt, it’s not going to be enough for the Jackets to just be good, they need to be exceptional. Columbus is scheduled for three games in the next week – they will host Nashville and Phoenix on Tuesday and Friday respectively, and then journey down to the Music City on Sunday for a matinee with the Predators.

Columbus Crew Week in Preview:

Even thought the first regular season MLS game is not until March 19th, the Black and Gold start play with a CONCACAF contest this week. On Tuesday, the Crew matches up against Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew Stadium at 8:00. In case you are curious, CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football) is one of six continental authorities in charge of organizing and administering international soccer tournaments for national and club teams. Additionally CONCACAF conducts World Cup qualifying tournaments for member nations (USA has to do well in the CONCACAF tournament in a few years to be eligible for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil). The Columbus Crew became eligible for the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League by having the best regular season record in 2009 and earning the Supporters’ Shield. The other MLS teams participating are Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, and Toronto FC, though only Real Salt Lake has advanced to the quarterfinals. Akin to the first round of the MLS Playoffs, during group play every team in each group plays each other twice – once in each stadium. Columbus was placed in Group B along with Municipal (Guatemala), Santos Laguna (Mexico), and Joe Public (Trinidad). The top two teams in each group advance:

Since Columbus finished with twelve points in the group, they have moved on to the quarterfinals and can advance based on aggregate goals scored in two games against Real Salt Lake. The second leg of the round will be played in Utah on March 1. Tuesday’s matchup has the dual purpose of legitimate competition and a chance to see how the newcomers fare in their Columbus debut.

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.

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