Puck, Yeah!: Of ice and men

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Say it with me. Blue Jackets. Playoffs. Sounds good, eh?

Springtime is now hockey time in Columbus. With the Blue Jackets punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in team history, fans can finally get a taste of hockey that matters in weather perfect for Arena District patios.

Longtime Jackets backers have been (sometimes) patiently waiting for this day to come, but if you're a casual fan, the playoffs are a perfect time to claim a seat on the bandwagon. Friendly neighborhood sports bars around the city will be catching the hockey bug for a night, so order up a can of Molson and make sure you sit near a high-def television. HDTV has made following the puck - a longtime barrier for new hockey watchers - a snap.

And while tickets to the sold-out home games are already fetching top dollar online, what could match hearing that cannon fire at the first playoff game at Nationwide?

Cup runneth over

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a unique beast in the sports world. With a field of 16 teams - eight from each conference - and each round a best-of-seven series, the playoffs are a marathon that can last up to two full months. Throw in a sudden-death overtime that often leads to games being played into the wee hours and you have a full-blown feat of endurance.

Fortunately, the Jackets are a team built to endure. Their grinding, defensive-minded style may make them a bigger playoff threat than their low seed suggests. Get ready for some hard-fought games and some sleepless nights.

While this is new ground for the franchise, there is plenty of playoff experience on the team, including Mike Commodore, owner of one of the greatest playoff beards of the past decade.

Wings and a prayer

After clinching a playoff slot, the Jackets lost their grip on the sixth seed in the Western Division, falling to seventh and thus drawing a more daunting opponent in the Detroit Red Wings, hockey's equivalent of the New York Yankees.

On paper, it's a tough task, but the Jackets split the season series with Detroit 3-3. The Wings are skilled and flashy, but Columbus has the size and physical style that could bring an upset. If the Jackets get the expected stellar goaltending from uber-rookie Steve Mason and some help from Detroit's questionable netminding, we could be earning some respect from the rest of the hockey world.

And it's one more chance to beat Michigan. What could be sweeter?

Playoff Round 1 schedule

Game 1: at Detroit, 7 p.m. Thursday

Game 2: at Detroit, 6 p.m. Saturday

Game 3: at Columbus, 7 p.m. April 21

Game 4: at Columbus, 7 p.m. April 23

*Game 5: at Detroit, 7 p.m. April 25

*Game 6: at Columbus, TBD April 27

*Game 7: at Detroit, TBD April 29

*if necessary