There is a considerable amount of angst among CBJ fans at present. The team is on the brink of squandering a second season with a now annual December swoon. There are those that think because of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of the CBJ, that these upcoming games are a meaningless exercise on the way to another non-playoff season. However, being only 5 points out in the ultra competitive West, writing this team off may be premature. Certainly, no matter the outcome of the season, it would be preferable for the team to go down swinging. On a personal basis, recent evidence suggest that they may have the ability to do this. Pragmatically, they have used up all the buffers and safety factors their hot start gave them, so now they must win. Period. But, this does not render these last 33 games meaningless. That is something we may have to wait for retrospect to truly judge. So to put this in perspective, it seems fitting to review the CBJ's Most Meaningless Game Ever.
To set the stage, we need an opponent. Who else but the gosh darn Detroit Redwings? The scene is Joe Louis Arena, and we are being treated to the indelible scene of Matt the Mask taunting the Redwings fans, being tossed by an imperious Redwings usher, and in a final gesture of contempt, throwing his mask onto the ice. That night the CBJ laid an 8-2 beating on the Redwings like they have never experienced from the CBJ. The Captain, Rick Nash, duplicated a feat that had not been seen since the days of Rocket Richard, an unassisted hat trick. And, like a Greek tragedy, sowed the seeds of CBJ doom by handing Mike Babcock a motivational whip that he has used with great effectiveness for almost two years.
So what is the CBJ's Most Meaningless Game? Fast forward to the first ever playoff appearance of our beloved Jackets, and we are squaring off against the Redwings. We start the series on the road. With Babcock mercilessly wielding his motivational whip, the 'Wings skate the CBJ off the ice for two games in a row at the Joe. The scene shifts to Nationwide Arena, and Detroit quickly puts the first playoff game ever in Nationwide to bed in their favor.
Now we are come to it. Game 4, the last game of the series to be played at Nationwide Arena is meaningless. Even if we prolong the series, we won't prolong it long enough to bring it back home. Everyone knows it. It is a meaningless game, a game played for pride only, because the series is over. Win or lose, our boys needed to play well. On a personal level, I resolved not to get cheated in this game. No matter the outcome, I was gonna cheer long and hard for our boys, because they deserved it.
And I sure didn't get cheated. Well, except by the refs, but that's the usual story. The fans brought the thunder that day in Nationwide Arena. True to the script, the Redwings jumped up early, but that just seemed to get the crowd even more into the game. The CBJ came roaring back, with the arena rocking to the foundations. Friends of mine were across Nationwide Boulevard during that game, and the crowd was clearly audible across the street. When the Jackets scored, you could barely hear the Cannon.
And, as was probably predictable, the ending was much like that of a Greek tragedy. The refs call a 'too many men' penalty with a bit more than a minute left (defended as 'automatic' by the same guys who let the Pens skate a whole shift with 6 guys later in the playoffs), and the game is delayed while the shower of beer cans is cleaned off the ice (talk about 'real time' performance feedback!!), and the evil Redwings slip a dagger in the good guy's back, score on the power play, and it's over.
So what lesson do we draw from 'the most meaningless game'? It's about our approach as fans. Most of the time we'd like to let our hair hand down and get crazy in support of our team. But when Calgary skates them off the ice, we suffer humiliation at the hands of the Pens and their fans in our own barn, and the second annual December swoon takes the wind our of our sails, its normal to start protecting ourselves. It takes me longer to get involved in a cheer. I want to see that they are coming out and playing hard. This is a normal protective measure. But in the most truly meaningless game, I didn't care. And when the team got down, the crowd got loud, and the team responded. They control the play. We control the crowd.
I've seen in several blogs that the rest of this year is meaningless. That we are out of the playoffs, in spite of the fact that we are clearly in reach. There are also clearly serious hurdles that must be crossed to get there. What is the easiest way to make sure that the rest of the season is meaningless? To make Nationwide Arena a friendly place for the visiting team.
So Claude Noel is the new guru of Central Ohio?? He knows the market better than we do? "The market will dissipate rapidly if they don't win?" I don't buy it Claude. In 3 days time, this market put $5 grand on the board because they wanted a win. The players got it. Big time. They matched it, and started playing with real determination.
So if you are sitting on your hands down the stretch, protecting your psyche, you are doing the one thing that will make the rest of the season meaningless. If making the playoffs is important to you, let your hair down and make Nationwide a loud place again. It might not make the team into winners, but it will annoy enough of the naysayers to make it worth the effort. GO JACKETS!!