COLUMBUS – I have to say, driving into the city Monday evening I was a little skeptical of what the atmosphere surrounding the Jackets would be; a team in the post-season for the first time in franchise history.
On the first evening I counted more baseball and college logos around the town than Blue Jackets memorabilia. So, despite being a Blue Jackets booster all season long – and letting Adam Proteau know he was going to have to live up to his early-season bet day in and day out – I thought we might find ourselves in the middle of a stereotype. That being, small market American franchises have non-existent fan bases and I might find myself coming out of the experience with, reluctantly, more ammo supporting a migration of these fickle, unsupported franchises to the Great White North.
But then game day came.
The city remained quiet in the morning and the drizzly weather discouraged me even further as to how many rambunctious, zealous fans would be out showing their support and gaining momentum for their team. But then – and all of a sudden – about an hour before the gates opened the streets were flooded with people wearing Jackets jerseys, sporting war-era mutton chops and Union caps; the city had come alive.
Leo Welsch got the festivities started with his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner after the crowd welcomed him in unison with a loud: LEO! He belted out the anthem and finished it off with a couple fists pumps that got the crowd rockin’. And when I say the crowd was rockin’ I really mean rockin’. Toronto could really aspire to this kind of atmosphere.
As the anticipation of the drop of the puck – and a moment in Columbus sports history – approached, the crowd’s intensity built. It exploded with the first hit of the game shortly after. It was clear the Jackets came out looking to keep the crowd in the game and give them something to cheer for.
But then reality set in.
A little more than a minute in, the Red Wings had already scored a 1-0 lead against the hometown team and it wasn’t about to get any prettier from there.
From the get-go Columbus was clearly the inferior club: lazy passes, the “it’s yours” syndrome for loose pucks and what appeared to be an urge to make the big play when no big play was to be had stewed together to plot against the Jackets.
You’d think after eight years of not making the playoffs the Jackets would be one of the most patient franchises in the league. Heck, you’ve waited this long, take your time on the ice, make the smart play and take the chances as they present themselves.
What this series comes down to is pretty simple. Patience is a virtue Detroit possesses and Columbus does not. (Of course Columbus’ horrendous power play is to blame as well, but that’s nothing new.)
The ability of the Wings to wait out their opponent and look for the smart play instead of forcing a “neat” play was the difference in Game 3 and has been the difference in the whole series to this point.
For example, at one point Tomas Holmstrom had the puck down low in front of the net (when else does he have the puck?) and went to turn and shoot, but was blocked by the defenseman and Steve Mason’s stick along the ice. Instead of trying again for a chance that was going nowhere with such a well-guarded cage, he sent the puck back to his wide open point man for another realistic attempt to score.
On the flip side, how many no-look passes did you see from Columbus? How many times did a loose puck dribble out of a scrum and two Jackets players just looked at each other, while a Red and White jersey screamed after the rubber disc and went down the ice for a rush? How many times was a Columbus play hurried when it didn’t have to be?
The intensity of the crowd died along with the Jackets’ chances in this game and at one point the boo birds even showed up. One fellow in front of us was heard constantly chanting “Hit someone. I don’t care who, just hit someone!” It had almost gotten to the point where the big hit was what mattered and a goal seemed to almost be a lost cause.
The hits were there – the Mike Commodore hit and his subsequent launching into the Detroit bench is one I’ll not soon forget – but the overall desire from the Jackets was not. It seemed like the Wings wanted it more, but seeing as that is just an old cliché the fact of the matter is the Jackets don’t have enough playoff experience on their side and only one thing can remedy that: Time. (Ya that’s an old cliché, too, but it’s so true.)
R.J. Umberger – who was leveled earlier in the game by a hit reminiscent of Brian Campbell’s on Umberger a couple playoffs ago – made the cannon fire when he got the Jackets on the board with about four minutes remaining. By that time the game was already lost, but the crowd ignited all the same. It was good to have Columbus get on the board and give their lively, intense and passionate fans something to cheer. And not to mention fire that cannon I wanted to hear live oh so badly.
All in all, despite the deadpan loss, the Columbus experience was a great one. I never thought I’d set foot in Columbus, Ohio, especially for an NHL playoff game, but I’d come back again in a second.
Thanks Columbus for a great atmosphere
; thanks for all the funny stares you gave Mr. Proteau. Carry the flag forth from here.
And thank you, Adam Proteau, for making that ridiculous bet.
Next year can we go somewhere a little warmer, though?
PROTEAU ON THE STREET
Blue Jackets’ fans were buzzing in the concourse prior to puck-drop and Adam Proteau, in full Civil War garb to make good on his bet, was there to catch the fever.
A full recap of Adam’s adventures in Columbus will appear in his Screen Shots column Thursday.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREE Playoff Challenge!
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before and the games ahead, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.