Straight Jackets: Here goes nothing
I busted my headphones.
The Jackets were less than seven seconds from clinching a playoff berth last Friday night when the Rangers' Pavel Buchnevich flung the puck toward the goal after an initial save by Sergei Bobrovsky, and it went off Bob and… in. I tore my headphones off and slammed them down, breaking them in the process.
It was so classic SOJ: Same Old Jackets.
Of course, the goal meant more game to watch, so I watched the overtime and shootout while clasping my headphones to both ears, some third-rate pop star in the “making of” video for their latest track. I'm not going to play-by-play the rest of that game (nor the one that followed) in this space, except to say that apparently the headphone-breaking slam was just what the team needed to refocus and get that playoff berth.
So the Jackets are in the playoffs for the third straight season, an achievement for which the relative merits can be debated, but here we are as Jackets fans. You can't win a playoff series unless you're in the playoffs, so there's that. But as fans of the only NHL franchise to never advance in the playoffs, Jackets faithful were sort of hoping for a little bit more hope.
Instead, the team stumbled through lengthy patches of a regular season marked by drama and strife, often the result of the contract status of Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin, rampant speculation boiling over into real-life turmoil on a couple of occasions.
Health issues facing the children of captain Nick Foligno kept him away from the team for a couple of stretches, and then there was the “all-in,” when General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen loaded up at the trade deadline. That approach failed miserably, at first, but the team scrambled and displayed some solid play to claim the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
And a matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team blessed with loads of offensive talent (Nikita Kucherov might be the league's best player right now), a deep blueline and a skilled, young goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning, for those who weren't paying attention, won 62 games during the regular season, only the second team to reach the total in league history. Along the way, the Lightning dispatched of the Jackets in the three games played between the clubs by a combined 17-3 score.
So you didn't like the Jackets' chances two seasons ago against Pittsburgh, or last, versus the Capitals? It would be a monumental upset if the Jackets were to win this series. But that's why they play the games (the first of which was played on Wednesday night after deadline), and, although it's a cliché that the NHL playoffs create an almost-unmatched atmosphere, another chance at playoff hockey is what we've got.
Time to shock the world.