Jackets come out on top in meeting of equals

Discussion in 'HFNHL Talk' started by Ohio Jones, Apr 25, 2007.

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  1. Ohio Jones

    Ohio Jones Game on...

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    The Blue Jackets rode Matt Pettinger's two goals, a 31-save performance from backup Jamie McLennan and some key special-teams play to down the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in overtime last night.

    McLennan outdueled All-Star Roberto Luongo to earn his third win in as many games, starting in place of over-tired rookie Peter Budaj.

    "I've played ok, but not great", McLennan told reporters afterwards. "These wins have come because our offence has been clicking lately." True enough: over the past 5 games, the Jackets - among the lowest-scoring teams in the league - have managed an average of better than 4 goals a game.

    Henrik Sedin scored the OT marker.

    Team discipline was definitely a factor in the game. Columbus killed off two Ottawa power plays, and managed to convert on 2 of their own 7 opportunities. The return to disciplined hockey was a welcome change for Jackets Head Coach Mike Babcock. "We've always played gritty, but lately we'd been allowing our emotions to get the better of us, to the point where we're taking more than a extra penalty per game compared to where we were earlier in the season."

    The match highlights the increased parity in the league, putting the Jackets up against their mirror-image in the Sens. At the start of the season, Columbus was considered a contender for the Cup, and Ottawa was struggling with roster issues after having to drastically cut payroll. By mid-season, however, the Jackets had fallen out of the playoff picture while the Sens had worked their way in. Both trends have averaged out at this point, with the Jackets putting on a late surge and the Sens falling back down to earth a bit. With the Jackets' win last night, the teams both find themselves with 78 points in 72 games. The difference? 78 points is enough to make the playoffs in the East, but not in the West.

    * * *

    With just 10 games left in the season, the Jackets find themselves knocking on the door of a playoff berth. Unfortunately, they'll have to rely on other teams doing their part (or not doing it, as the case may be) if they want the chance to appear in their third consecutive playoffs - in a misfortune of scheduling, only one of their remaining 10 games are against teams competing for one of the last playoff spots.

    Columbus plays two Eastern conference teams, then gets division cellar-dwellers Nashville (three times, all home dates and Chicago (once, at the United Centre), and they play the Blues (twice more, both at home) and the Sharks (once, in San Jose), neither of which are in any danger of falling out of the playoffs at this stage.

    Depending on how both teams do against their other opponents, Columbus' most iimportant game will come in the middle of that stretch of games, on Game Day 125, when they visit GM Place to take on Vancouver, a team that has had the Jackets' number so far this season. Tickets to that game are already said to be selling out.

    * * *

    Irony: if the Jakets make it into the playoffs, it will be in part because of their strong play against the St. Louis Blues. However, if they are able to get the wins they need against St. Louis, it will mean that St. Louis won't be able to catch Detroit for hte division and Conference lead, which means that the Jackets would be looking at a rematch of their first-round matchup from 2004, which they lost in 7 games. Early betting is that former Jackets captain Brendan Shanahan, now an integral part of the Wings' attack, would have a lot to say about that series not going seven games this time.

    * * *

    There's is a real possibility that the HFNHL, like the NHL, will go into the playoff without either of the previous season's Cup finalists in attendance, as the Sabres' woes continue. They are currently in 7th spot in the East, but are only two points ahead of the Penguins who have a game in hand on the Sabres and the same number of wins.

    Whatever happens, it's going to be an exciting couple of weeks for HFNHL fans.

    Milo Minderbinder
    Columbus Discoverer
     

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