The Hooley, Monday, Apri 10

posted by Bruce Hooley -

The legendary sportswriter, Grantland Rice, once wrote:

“When that One Great Scorer comes

To mark against your name,

He cares not whether you won or lost,

But how you played the game."

That's how I feel about the Columbus Blue Jackets and their first-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins that begins this week.

I'm trying not to have a defeatist attitude about the CBJ's post-season chances, but there are few objective measures by which you would give the Jackets much of a chance against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Their series starts Wednesday in PIttsburgh, where Game 2 will take place on Friday, before the Series moves to Columbus on Sunday.

I know the Blue Jackets went 2-1-1 against the Pens this season, so that might be used as evidence that Columbus has an even-money chance of winning this series.

But, Pittsburgh will have home-ice advantage, and thus a Game 7 in its building if necessary. And there's no doubt which team comes into the playoffs playing the better hockey.

The Penguins went 5-3-2 over their final 10 games, which isn't all that scintillating until you compare it to the Blue Jackets losing six their last seven games and going 3-5-2 over their final 10 games.

So where does the Grantland Rice, it matters not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, quote fit into all this?

Simple.

In my mind, the Blue Jackets don't have to win this series for their season to be a success. Seems silly to dismiss a 50-win season, a 100-plus points season, because of a loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions who finished ahead of you in the standings.

But the Blue Jackets do have to play in such a way against Pittsburgh that they are in this Series all the way until they're not.

A sweep, a loss in five games...that's unacceptable.

But let's say they lose to the Pens in six, like they did three years ago. That could be acceptable if they win their first franchise playoff game in regulation, if they get a bad break or two and that's what decides the outcome, or if they're down a tight series, 3 games to 2, and force a Game 7 with a pulsating win at Nationwide.

It would be hard for me to classify this season a failure if any of those circumstances transpire.

 After all, the Blue Jackets playoff history is meager, to say the least.

In 16 seasons, they've made it twice, falling in four to the Red Wings in 2009 and losing, 4-2, to the Penguins in 2014.

Of course, going into the post-season on the sort of slide that's gripped the Jackets here at the finish is anything but ideal.

The Blue Jackets have won three of 11 games since clinching a playoff spot on March 19.

Saturday at Philadelphia, head coach John Tortorella was in full spin mode when he benched leading scorer Cam Atkinson for the final 13 minutes of a go-through-the-motions loss to the Flyers.

Torts said he was "trying to save" Atkinson from doing further damage to his confidence. "The way he was playing," Tortorella said, "wasn't helping him."

 Sunday, Torts looked like a savant, because Atkinson got his 35th goal of the season, and just his second in his last 12 games, shorthanded to give the Blue Jackets a 3-2 win at Toronto.

The CBJ needs Atkinson to be special for it to be special. During the team's 16-game winning streak, he had 10 goals and 8 assists, producing more than one point per-night.

Lately it's been a rarity for any of the Blue Jackets to score, and that's not good going against Pittsburgh, which scores in bunches.

The Blue Jackets power play is still a mess. What once was the league's best unit with the man-advantage is now very pedestrian.

If you're looking for reasons to be optimistic, here's one...

You can never count out a team with a hot goal-tender. When he's right, there is no better goaltender in the NHL than Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky was unbeatable in March, but he's been shaky lately. In fact, he's lost the last four games he's played.

Of course, the Blue Jackets have been playing without rookie Zach Werenski over the past week, and their defense has been a mess without him.

Both Tortorella and GM Jarmo Kekalainenn say Werenski will be back for the playoffs. If that's true, and Werenski is right, and can stay right, there's no calculating the difference that will make and no telling what sort of emotional lift that will give his teammates.

Still, there's no more important emotion in any sport than confidence, and I wonder how the Blue Jackets can have much of that given how they've struggled down the stretch.

Tortorella can express all the belief in his team being capable and prepared, but it sounds more like wishful thinking than anything else.

The only way to know is to wait for Wednesday and Game One at Pittsburgh. What happens in those 60 minutes will tell us a lot about whether this Blue Jackets season will end with a fistfight or with a whimper.

I was rooting for Sergio Garcia to win The Masters on Sunday, and I really don't know why.

I guess it's because I felt bad for him being a tortured soul, being one of the best players of his generation, yet unable to win a major championship.

Now, that monkey is off his back.

 So, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler can arm wrestle for the title no professional golfer wants.

And Sergio can join another discussion that is much more pleasant to be a part of.


It might be good for the Cavaliers to lose the top seed in the East. That would bring considerable ridicule and stories about how Cleveland won't win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals. Maybe that would wake them up.

Nothing else has worked.

It was a Festival of Stupid that caused the Cavs to lose a 26-point, fourth-quarter lead Sunday at
Atlanta.

Over 800 NBA teams in a row had managed to nurse that sort of lead home safely to get the W. Only four times in NBA history had a team lost, leading by 26 or more, entering the fourth quarter.

But the Cavs found a way, becoming the first team to do it since 2002.

They play Monday night on The Zone. At least, they're in Miami to take on the Heat. Whether the Cavs will play or not, no one knows.


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