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Game Preview #79 - Ranger Bookends

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It's Fan Appreciate Night, and the team that stole the soul of Columbus on opening night is back.

Blue Jackets vs. Rangers - 7:00 PM
Game Faceoff

It seems like a lifetime ago.

Opening Night. Late third period. Power Play. Brandon Saad scores from a backside shot with a screen. 2-1 Jackets, 3:50 to go.

Like I said, a lifetime ago.

There are no real words--though we've tried for six months--to describe to gut punch the ensuing 3:50 of game time wrought on this team. Eight straight losses. Never above .500 for a single second of an entire season. 30th place for most of it, never higher than 25th.

Tonight is Fan Appreciation Night. So, naturally, who's skating against the Jackets? None other than those same Rangers. Because, of course.

If I try very hard, I can almost isolate the nervous bliss I felt the moment Saad scored that goal to put Columbus ahead 2-1. I was watching the game on DVR delay. It was Sunday evening. I'd been gone all weekend, and managed to keep radio silence intact. I had no idea what was going to happen after that goal. None. For that briefest of moments, I actually allowed myself to believe. This team was going to be good. They were skating toe to toe with the Rangers, and were going to win. 100 points seemed realistic. It was nervous bliss. I couldn't wait to celebrate the end of the game.

You all already knew. I had no idea. Turns out ignorance really is bliss, or a reasonable facsimile.

That feeling... so fleeting. I can remember it, remember feeling it. I can't grab on to it, though. This entire season has whipped it out of me. I find nothing there but shame (for believing), bitterness (for putting so much hope into this team/season), and resentment (for having had to find some kind of reason to write about each game that I've covered, which is around 65-70 so far).

There's nothing left but a minor ulcer of having been duped, having been tricked into thinking things would be different this time. I feel a bit like Theoden when he realizes that his over-confidence in his defenses was misplaced. That look on his face in the movie when he says "The fortress is taken. It is over," has been living on my face for six months.

But hey... four more games. It *is* fan appreciation night. They're still our team. This season was a tipping point for me, personally, but I'll be back in the fall, hopefully with a sliver of optimism. They looked competent on Saturday, so maybe we'll get to see some actual NHL-caliber hockey tonight.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(31-39-8, 70 Points; 8th division, 15th conference)

Boone Jenner Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
Sonny Milano Alexander Wennberg Brandon Saad
Matt Calvert William Karlsson BJORKSTRAND
Nick Foligno Gregory Campbell Jared Boll
Ryan Murray Seth Jones
Cody Goloubef David Savard
Dean Kukan Dalton Prout
Joonas Korpisalo
Sergei Bobrovsky

New York Rangers
(43-26-9, 95 Points - 3rd Division, 5th Conference)

Rick Nash Derick Brassard J.T. Miller
Chris Kreider Derek Stepan Mats Zuccarello
Eric Staal Kevin Hayes Jesper Fast
Tanner Glass Dominic Moore Viktor Stalberg
Ryan McDonagh Kevin Klein
Keith Yandle Dan Girardi
Marc Staal Dan Boyle
Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta