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Home crowd will only carry upstart Blue Jackets only so far

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A raucous capacity crowd is expected to energize the Columbus Blue Jackets in their first home playoff game ever on Tuesday night.

Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said it's the other way around. "It's our job to energize them," Hitchcock said Monday of the 19,000-plus expected to raise the roof at Nationwide Arena.

The Detroit Red Wings hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round Western Conference series. They've won twice by playing well, certainly, but also by pouncing on every little mistake the neophyte Blue Jackets have made. Half of the Wings' eight goals in the two games have gone in off a Columbus player.

The Blue Jackets feel it's time they earn the support they'll get from their fans.

"A big reason we didn't do anything in those first two games is not because we're being outworked," Columbus forward Raffi Torres said. "We're working hard, we're just not working smart. A lot of times when they're creating stuff, it's off of our mistakes, which is not us. We know what we have to do."

The crowd Tuesday night figures to be very different from the first eight seasons when the Red Wings visited Ohio's capital city. For years, Wings fans have flooded south to watch their team. There were so many Yzerman, Zetterberg and even Gordie Howe jerseys around the arena, and the Detroit fans were so loud, often it was hard to tell who the home team was.

Those days may be over.

"It's a loud arena in the regular season, too. The crowd will really get into it and (the Blue Jackets) will certainly come out desperate," the Wings' Tomas Holmstrom said Monday. "We just have to play our game and be prepared for the first five or 10 minutes and try to turn the momentum our way."

At the same time, the Blue Jackets aren't misled into thinking that their fans will leave the mighty Wings quaking in their skates.

"You're not going to intimidate the Detroit Red Wings," Hitchcock said.

The reigning Stanley Cup champions have made the playoffs the last 18 seasons. They've been shouted down, antagonized and reviled by some of the most belligerent throngs from Tampa Bay to Denver to Anaheim. What they'll get from the Columbus crowd won't be anything new.

"A road team isn't as affected by the crowd. They're used to hostile environments," veteran Columbus centre Michael Peca said. "The detriment you get with the crowd is if the road team has the ability to silence the crowd and quiet them out, then it really drops the energy level of everybody (with the home team). As the home team, you want to do whatever you can - do big penalty kills, effective power plays, strong five-on-five and puck control - to keep the crowd on their toes and keep them in the game."

The biggest concern for the Blue Jackets is what takes place on the ice. If they continue to lose faceoffs and take needless penalties they'll make things far more difficult for rookie goaltender Steve Mason, who has played much better than the 8-1 goal differential would indicate.

"We're going to be better at all areas of our game, from the goaltender on out," Mason said. "Coming back with an 0-2 series situation isn't the greatest, but we're looking for the home support and hopefully win Game 3 and go on from there."

With the games shifting to Columbus, Hitchcock, as the home coach, gets to see who the Wings put on the ice before sending out his matchups. As a result, he might be able to free up leading scorer Rick Nash, who doesn't have a goal or assist in the first two games.

Hitchcock is toying with one line change. He had Antoine Vermette centre the first line with Nash and Kristian Huselius during Monday's practice. Manny Malhotra, frequently centring the top line, was on the third line between Fredrik Modin and Jason Chimera.

The Red Wings plan no lineup changes. They don't need to change anything.

"We have enough people to match up. We're not very concerned," coach Mike Babcock said. "They've got to play against our good players too."

Hitchcock draws some solace from the fact that the Blue Jackets have rebounded for surprise wins all season during their darkest hours, even when they've had injuries and were playing the hottest teams.

"We've kind of prepared for this type of game since September," he said. "All the barking and scratching and complaining and demanding things that have gone on, is for this time. (The Red Wings) are not going away from this level. This is the level they're going to play at for the rest of the playoffs. They're dialled in. And it's our turn to answer the bell."


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