Everyone is picking Detroit to win and it is hard to argue with that. Although neither team is playing well at this time, Detroit is the defending Cup Champions and they are what they are, a formidable group of highly skilled, highly motivated, and very experienced players.
A lot of things have to happen for the Jackets to win, but it is not out of the question or unrealistic. And that is what I want to do here, look at what it will take for Columbus to pull this off.
Lets start in goal. Columbus has the advantage, right? Well, that was a strong statement ten games ago, but young Steve Mason has not been playing like he is capable. He needs to get back into the habits he had when he came up in November and be the wall that he was. I think he can do it and believe that he has been coasting a bit over the last two weeks. He knows that playoff success is on his shoulders, right or wrong. So if Mason comes out of the gate strong in the first game, that is one thing to check off. An above average Steve Mason cannot carry the team; he has to be outstanding.
You can attribute the drop in Steve Mason’s numbers or performance to the sudden looseness of the Blue Jacket defense. Jan Hejda has had trouble making passes, Fedor Tyutin has even more trouble passing, Mike Commodore has been caught out of position more, Rusty Klesla plays like Doug MacLean is still running things, and all of their troubles have left Mason vulnerable more times than not. I trust Commodore to clean up for the playoffs, but the other guys have never been there. As for Kris Russell, (who has the same minus ten that RJ Umberger has) he needs to convert the offensive opportunities that come to him. Christian Backman is plus five, by the way. In reality, Commodore, Hejda, Tyutin, and Klesla will get most of the ice time provided Rusty does not have a brain cramp. Maybe Klesla will show the world that he belongs. And the defense has to come up with a goal per game.
Rick Nash will score during the playoffs, but he will pay a price. He is going to get hacked and whacked as he never has, which means two or three others have to step up and take some of the heat. Last year, RJ Umberger had a great playoff run and I hope he repeats. Antoine Vermette has been steady and has playoff experience. Kristian Huselius should be rested and ready to go, but he also has experience going out in the first round with Calgary. Is Jason Chimea back to mid-season form? Can Jared Boll play well on every shift? The Malhotra, Voracek, Torres, Williams, Chimera, and Peca group has to score every game in this series. The Umberger, Vermette, and Huselius group has to score at least one goal every game in this series. And Rick Nash has to score one goal every game.
Playoff games are tighter and called differently. Small things are overlooked, so if you didn’t care for Kirk Maltby in the regualr season, you’ll be very unhappy with the playoffs. Nearly all goals will be reviewed, so you know that isn’t good for Columbus. It won’t be enough for the Blue Jackets to hold Detroit to two goals a night, because the Detroit defense can easily hold the Jackets to 20 shots and a single goal. Steve Mason might face 35-40 shots, and if stops .940 of them, that means he still gives up three. The Jackets will need to take just as many shots each game to take advantage of Chris Osgood’s alleged softness.
So, for Columbus to win, they need to take 35-40 shots a game, Mason has to be the “December” Mason, the defense has to play solid fundamentals, Rick Nash can’t be counted on to score more than half of the team goals, the Blue Jackets need to keep their composure, and Henrik Zetterberg needs to come down with food poisoning. Just kidding on that last one.
I think this series will go six games, there will two overtimes, and one shutout. If the four groups can each contribute a goal a game, that should be enough to win.