The Columbus Blue Jackets are in Calgary, preparing for their 3 game road trip through Western Canada. It starts tomorrow in Pengrowth Saddledome, continues in Rexall Place (Edmonton) and wraps up with a stop in General Motors Place (Vancouver). After completing a 6 game in 9 day stretch (4-1-1), they have a much slower pace of games in the next 6 days (3 games).
Once again, sounding like a badly broken record, every game is a playoff game for this team. In fact, for final 22 games of the season, this feels like playoff hockey to the denizens of Cowtown. This being a city raised on OSU Buckeye football, they have waited at times not so patiently for this intensity to visit their hometown hockey team. Nationwide Arena seems to get louder the closer this team gets to making their first playoff appearance in franchise history. To all of those who thought (and said) that Columbus wasn’t an NHL city, the feeling around the ‘Nat is almost becoming fever pitch in it’s excitement to go beyond 82 games.
“Tight” is the word most commonly used to describe the Western Conference standings. The Blue Jackets, Canucks and Oilers are seperated by only 5 points; Columbus sits in 6th (66), Vancouver in 5th (68) and Edmonton in 9th (63). The Flames are 3rd in the Conference with 76 points. Since the All Star break the Blue Jackets have gone 8-4-1. With the concensus being that it will take 92 points to make the playoffs, Columbus can go 13-9 over the last 22 games (for 92 points) and make it. Everyone I’ve talked to in Columbus dosen’t seem to think that they will lose 9 games over the remainder of the schedule; the feeling seems be that they might lose 6 games over that same stretch. Assuming 6 losses and no OT splits, that would give the Blue Jackets 98 points.
The Blue Jackets are coming around the corner and onto the homestretch; it all begins tomorrow. Columbus (6-3-1, last 10) are going up against an injury-ridden Calgary Flames (5-3-2, last 10). This is a game they can win; they have to play their style of “Hitch Hockey” to make it count. Next up are the Oilers (4-4-2, last 10) followed by the Canucks (8-1-1, last 10). Columbus has to make this roadtrip count by coming away with at least 3-4 points.
The rookie sensation (a.k.a. Steve Mason) of the Blue Jackets, to no ones surprise, is logging monster minutes in net since being called-up in early November from Columbus’ AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch. He hasn’t played a full season in the NHL, yet he’s in the top 4 amongst goaltenders in minutes played. From Puck Rakers:
“Since making his NHL debut on Nov. 5, just three other goaltenders have played more minutes than Mason. Unless I missed it, the others weren’t diagnosed with mono.
Here is your list:
Marty Turco (Dallas) 2,686 minutes
Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary) 2,483 minutes
Scott Clemmensen (New Jersey) 2,421 minutes
Steve Mason (Columbus) 2,380 minutes.”
Without this kid in net, the Blue Jackets would not be in the race they’re in for a playoff spot. While the rest of the team was still developing chemistry from all of the summer acquisitions, Mason was keeping this team in games, night after night. As I’ve stated before, Steve Mason has to be the favorite for the Calder Trophy; and should be in the running for the Vezina, as well. 22 more games will tell the rest of the story.
With 10 days left until the March 4th trade deadline, Columbus Dispatch Feature writer Michael Arace is intently following all of the trade rumors floating around. At this point he has more to say about who’s not being sought by the Blue Jackets organization than who is. Jeff Halpern (Tampa Bay Lightning) is one name he thinks is a possibilty.
“But there is that Tampa Bay fire sale. As Hockey News columnist Ken Campbell mentioned on our Cannon Fodder podcast the other day, Lightning center Jeff Halpern would be a good fit in Columbus – and it is very possible Halpern is on the Jackets’ radar. But, then, Halpern is on numerous teams’ radar…
…Halpern will turn 33 in May and his best years may be behind him, but he is still an effective two-way player who, presently, is centering the second line between Prospal and Mark Recchi. Halpern is another “playoff-type” player – he has been through the wars – and he would be a help here.”
These last 22 games are going to keep fans on the edge of their seats as the Blue Jackets continue their march to the post-season. With the team blazing a fresh trail that’s never been seen before in Columbus, the only thing everyone can do is hold on tightly. When the last regular season game is played April 11th in Nationwide Arena against the Minnesota Wild, the sound of everyones collective breath being let out will make for one glorious sound in old Cowtown.
Carry The Flag!!!