This isn't the story I wanted to write about, but it's the one we have, all the same.
When this year started, I was one of many who really thought this year was going to be different - that we'd see something special. And for probably half of this season, we did. I'll even go so far as to say that the fact that this team is still the second best squad in Franchise history, going by stats, shows that Scott Arniel is the right man for the job, and he did quite a bit with what he had.
But in the end, though the names changed, the story stayed the same. Instead of "the regular season finale" leading to a playoff spot, tonight will be another "Fan Appreciation Night" where we simply keep wondering why the team we love can't seem to love us back.
Both the Jackets and the Buffalo Sabres played last night, though the results for each club were quite different - Buffalo clinched their post-season berth last night, while the Jackets continued to swallow frustration in another loss in Nashville that allowed the Predators to punch their own ticket to the big dance.
Since fatigue is likely to be an issue for both teams, I'd expect to see a lot of short, hard shifts, as Lindy Ruff and Scott Arniel try to keep fresh legs on the ice as much as possible.
Ryan Miller, who missed much of the last few weeks with injury problems, is expected to start tonight, so at least it will be a chance to see another world class goaltender, and perhaps to give the Team USA hero a respectful salute before the game gets rolling.
Though the Jackets normally have a pretty good matchup with Eastern conference clubs, the Sabres were one of several that put a severe hurting on the Jackets during the "December to Misremember" earlier this season, so it's clear the Jackets will have a hard day in front of them, particularly if they take less than a 100% effort into this game.
The big question is if the Sabres are going to loosen up slightly, knowing they'll be heading into the playoffs, or will they try to take the Jackets down and see if they can leapfrog Montreal for the 6th seed?
Keys To The Game:
- No Shifts Off - You are what you are in game 82. There's no reason to hold anything back, and no excuse for sloppy or lazy play. It's not like there's another game waiting for you around the corner.
- Stop Stafford - Drew Stafford is having a career year for the Sabres, with 30 goals on the season and enough hat tricks that he's considering opening a haberdashery in the offseason. Though Thomas Vanek, Brad Boyes, and Jason Pominville are also threats, I'd consider Stafford a key peice the Jackets have to neutralize.
- Turnovers - Despite a clear effort last night, stupid turnovers killed the Jackets. You have to play smart with the puck in BOTH zones.
- Keep It Close - The Jackets are 19-9-13 in 1 goal games. They're also 12-4-6 when tied after 2 periods. If they can keep up with the Sabres today, and not let Buffalo build a lead, they stand a strong chance of bringing home the first win at a home finale in over 5 seasons.
- Have Fun - This is as much for you, the fan, as it is for the players. As infuriating as this season has been, even losing hockey is more fun than no hockey at all. Go out, enjoy the game, and win or lose, try to be a classy fan. Give the boys a round of applause tonight, no matter what happens, and we'll see you again next year.
You want to see a win. You want to see a win because far too many of these season finales have ended in losses, and this entire season seems to be about the promise of hope and the pain of when hope is taken away. For all the pain we've felt this season, I don't think it's so much to ask for a bit of hope to take with us into the summer, that we can preserve into the long summer, and rekindle the flame when September rolls around and we're suddenly undefeated once again.
Blue Jackets Information:
|R.J. Umberger||Derick Brassard||Jakub Voracek|
|Kristian Huselius||Antoine Vermette||Matt Calvert|
|Scottie Upshall||Samuel Pahlsson||Derek Dorsett|
|Chris Clark||Derek MacKenzie||Jared Boll|
|Grant Clitsome||Sami Lepisto|
|Fedor Tyutin||Marc Methot|
|Anton Stralman||Jan Hejda|
|Thomas Vanek||Tim Connolly||Jason Pominvile|
|Tyler Ennis||Brad Boyes||Drew Stafford|
|Nathan Gerbe||Paul Gaustad||Cody McCormick|
|Rob Niedermayer||Matt Ellis||Mark Mancari|
|Andrej Sekera||Mike Weber|
|Chris Butler||Tyler Myers|
|Marc-Andre Gragnani||Steve Montador|