Straight Jackets: So this is the second round?
The Blue Jackets last played an official NHL hockey game on Tuesday, April 16. Weirdly, in the more than a week since, it hasn't been that different for Jackets fans from previous years once the team's first round playoff matchup was over — so many days watching other teams play hockey.
Of course, things are very different this year.
The wait is not the beginning of an overlong offseason for the woe-begotten CBJ, but the result of a stunning sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. There's more CBJ hockey coming, and while Tom Petty warned us, the NHL never followed up with a reminder that the waiting is, indeed, the hardest part.
The team has been practicing instead of holding season exit meetings. And fans have been watching the rest of the playoffs, not wistfully imagining what it must feel like, or picking a new team to follow, but checking out potential competition. That is, in particular, the Boston-Toronto series, which went the full seven games, ending with a 5-1 Boston victory on Tuesday.
Sensing the length of the unprecedented wait, the team held an open practice/scrimmage on the Nationwide Arena ice Monday, April 22, and fans experiencing the unprecedented wait showed out to watch the talk of the league. (Indeed, in the days since the Jackets series win, media and other hockey pundits have been trying to reimagine the playoffs, searching for ways to provide greater advantages to teams finishing at the top of the regular season standings. Jackets fans have, predictably, replied with varying takes on "eff off.")
But, for now, all thoughts have turned to the Bruins and the second round matchup, which begins Thursday, April 25, in Boston.
One thing that was going to be a question mark heading into the series regardless of the opponent was, "Will the Jackets be able to recapture the magic?" It's an oversimplification, but it's fair to wonder if the Jackets will be able to return to the level of play and commitment to scheme that so benefited them against the Lightning after having such a long layoff between games. Conversely, the Jackets have had the chance to recover from some nagging injuries, and to reinforce the importance of commitment to doing what's worked so far.
The matchup with the Bruins means the game plan is not as obvious (of course, it may be to the coaches) as it would have been versus the Leafs, who play a similar game to the Lightning. The Bruins, while not without their own top-end talent, are a more balanced squad, with plenty of veteran leaders, some of whom were on the roster when they won the Cup in 2011. Personally, some of my least favorite players in the league are Bruins, including Brad Marchand, David Backes and Zdeno Chara. Marchand, in particular, seems to historically pose problems for the Jackets.
But there were moments in their first round series that the B's looked old and slow, which should benefit a younger and fresher CBJ squad.
In part because of the Jackets win against the President's Trophy winners (the Lightning had the best record in the regular season), the playoffs are now wide open. That the Jackets should be competitive and have certain advantages in this round makes me nervous. The first round win was largely unexpected, in particular the way the team swept the top seed out, and so the win was joyous and celebratory. (Also, you may have heard it was the first playoff series win in franchise history.)
But now we have hopes and maybe even expectations. I know the Jackets can play well, but I don't know that I can fan well. I like this second-round feeling, and I think I'd like to find out what the third round feels like.