Blue Jackets & Capitals Each at a Crossroads

When the Columbus Blue Jackets received an early power play on Thursday night, you could tell their performance on it would dictate how the rest of the night would go. They struggled with their opportunity. Not surprisingly, they struggled with everything after that.

A Quick Game 4 Recap

Making good on the promise of Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals took care of business in Game 4 in convincing fashion by the score of 4-1. Quite honestly, it felt like about 7-1 given how the Blue Jackets performed.

The Capitals played by far their best team game of the series. Conversely, as John Tortorella put it postgame, the Blue Jackets laid an egg. It’s especially disappointing considering they had a 2-0 lead and an incredible environment waiting for them at Nationwide Arena. They let opportunity slip away in Game 3. They never had a chance in Game 4.

Nerves clearly got to the them. They chased the game virtually the whole night. When they did have the puck, they tried forcing plays and it led to numerous turnovers and little sustained possession. Although there were some pockets of decent play, the Blue Jackets couldn’t solve Braden Holtby anyway.

So this is now a best-of-three series no matter how you slice this. The Blue Jackets have two wins. The Capitals have two wins. Game 5 goes Saturday afternoon and will give someone a leg up in the series. No matter who wins or loses, it is not an elimination game.

Although it’s not an elimination game, Game 5 is important for another reason. It does give one team a chance to get a huge leg up in the series. When you consider where these two franchises are as a whole, you start to see a clearer picture of two teams at an important crossroads in their existence. Let’s examine this further.

From a Blue Jackets Standpoint

This was finally supposed to be the year for the Blue Jackets. They made the playoffs for a second straight season. They won the first two games on the road coming home. They could win their first playoff series in franchise history.

They still could do that. But after the way they lost the last two games, one in gut-wrenching fashion and the other in going-away fashion, you wonder where their confidence is at.

What was once a team who could come back from any situation is now a team searching for answers after an embarrassing performance in front of their home fans. Alexander Wennberg practiced with the team Friday but there was no update from Tortorella as to his status. His return would give them a huge boost. He did not speak to the media after practice.

Alexander Wennberg Blue Jackets
Alexander Wennberg did not speak with the media Friday.
His availability for Saturday is uncertain. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But if he doesn’t play, the same skaters will have to not only find their game, but also beat a confident Braden Holtby. Old demons of the past still float around the team whether anyone wants to admit it or not.

The Blue Jackets were nervous Thursday. Their play showed it. They are at a crossroads moment for the franchise. Win this series and finally put a win in the playoff series win column. Lose this series and now you have several questions to address including another failed postseason.

Which Blue Jackets’ team are we going to see on Saturday, the nervous tentative group that looked gassed or the confident, fast group that can recover from anything?

Game 5 is a fresh start. It’s a fresh start if the Blue Jackets allow it to be a fresh start. They have to focus on Saturday and not let any doubt creep in. They have a chance to dictate their history. Can this team exorcise the demons and pull this series out?

From a Capitals Standpoint

The Capitals have been here before. They know how demanding and unforgiving the playoffs are. After falling into an 0-2 hole, questions started to rise again about the same ol’ Capitals. All that talent and opportunity doomed to another disappointing playoff failure. Two overtime losses to start the series reopened old wounds. Would their collapse happen in the first round and not the second?

To their credit, the Capitals went to Columbus with a purpose. They were bringing the series back to Capital One Arena tied. They did that. So now what?

As good as their two wins at Nationwide Arena were, they’ve only done half the job to this point. They have to win two of the next three in order to advance. With two of those games at home, they should feel confident about themselves.

But we’ve been here before with this team. They’ve had Game 7’s at home with the crowd on their side only to suffer heartbreaking defeats. They haven’t advanced past the second round in 20 seasons. If they win this series after coming back from 0-2 down, will that be the lesson to get them over the top? If they lose this series anyway, the demons of playoffs’ past will come flying into their faces again.

Alex Ovechkin Capitals
Will Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals finally overcome their past playoff failures?
(Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports)

The Capitals like the Blue Jackets are at an important crossroads. These final games of the series will help one team exorcise some demons. If it’s the Blue Jackets, they’ll finally get the playoff monkey off their back. If it’s the Capitals, they’ll have proven they can come back from a deficit and that could propel them later in the playoffs.

Two teams. Two different crossroads. One team will find their way and conquer their demons. The other will have to deal with another disappointing end to their season with the same questions hovering over them.

That’s what makes this Game 5 take on added importance. It’s the first step to writing a better ending. Who will find what it takes to get over the top and take this series?

Let’s drop the puck and get on with it already.