If there were ever a game that Jackets absolutely had to win, it would be tonight's contest against the Detroit Red Wings.
The series shifts from Motown to Nationwide Arena in Columbus. This is the first-ever playoff game in Columbus history, so the place should be rockin'. Detroit has taken the first two games by a combined score of 8-1. If the Wings win tonight, they would take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, which would almost certainly be the nail in the Jackets' coffin. Only two teams in history have come back to win a series after being down 3-0.
Coach Ken Hitchcock has made some line changes for game three. He has promoted center Antoine Vermette to the top line, between Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius- the team's top duo from the regular season. Jason Williams has been slotted between RJ Umberger and Jakub Voracek to form a solid second line. Chemistry needs to be developed quickly, as the team needs to start putting the puck in the net.
As for the checking and energy units, Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra and Fredrik Modin make up the thid line, and the fourth line is comprised of Raffi Torres, Mike Peca and Derek Dorsett.
Chimera and Malhotra have had chemistry in the past, and combined with former Cup-winner Freddy Modin, the line should flourish. Raffi Torres and Mike Peca went to the cup finals together with Edmonton in recent years, so they should be a stabilizing force for the young players. Derek Dorsett is relentless on the forecheck and had a solid game two.
The keys to Game three:
- the new top line needs to start getting shots on net, and needs to get the puck in deep and establish a cycle. Nash and Huselius have been quiet thus far, if there were a game to break out, it's this one.
- The special teams need to get better, plain and simple. On that note, the team needs to be more disciplined. Giving up multiple power plays to a team like Detroit is playoff suicide. Conversely, when the Jackets are on a power play, they need to keep it simple, get traffic in front of Chris Osgood, and get a ton of shots through.
- Steve Mason has not played poorly, but if the Jackets don't show up again, he may need to have the best game of his short career, and steal one for the home team. There have been a ton of deflection goals, both by Red Wing and Blue Jacket players, so one point of focus should be to allow Mason to see the shots going his way. If he can see it, he can stop it.
- The transition from the defensemen to the forwards needs to be crisp. The breakouts at times in games one and two has been atrocious. Pucks are missing players' sticks, guys are whiffing on passes, and there is a general sense of panic when players are trying to move the puck up-ice.
- The Jackets need to build on the home-ice advantage they gain tonight. WIth Vermette, Malhotra and Peca, the Jackets are a good faceoff team, and being the home team should help in that respect. Also, Ken Hitchcock will be able to get the line matchups he desires.
Overall, this is the most important game in franchise history. The Jackets need to set the tone early, as they did in game one. This time however, they can't crumble in the second period and allow the Wings to dictate play. They need to establish a forecheck early, and play a physical style. Columbus as a team is at it's best when they get teams deep in their end, and are able to dictate the physical portion of the game.
If the Jackets can give a 60 minute effort, and play the game that got them to the playoffs in the first place, they will win game three and be right back in the series.