Tuesday, February 8, 2011
OK, tonight. Like every other game between now and the end of the season, tonight is a "must win". I say that for a couple of reasons.
First, the November-January slump has forced the Columbus Blue Jackets' hand. They have to win, pretty much all the time, to have a realistic shot at overtaking the five teams that stand between them and the 8th seed in the Western Conference. As I type, the CBJ have a 7.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Every win is a boost, and a win out of conference is like being handed a gift of two magic points. In all reality, the CBJ don't care about the wins and losses that the Penguins have; this game is about getting Columbus' two points and moving along. I also note that the above link suggests that a win tonight increases the CBJ's likelihood of making the playoffs by 3.5 percent. That's no small potatoes.
There's another reason to want tonight's win, however. This whole Columbus-Pittsburgh thing is a quirky little competition. I'd call it a rivalry if there was more back and forth in the on-ice outcomes, but the past is the past. Let's just say that playing Pittsburgh seems to get the CBJ fanbase riled up. Maybe it's because the Pens are the golden children of the NHL right now. Maybe it's because we're sick of having our arena overtaken by black and gold (and that "pinch those cheeks" baby blue!) when they come to town. I don't know...but I do know that this game probably has more emotional significance than any other game played against an Eastern Conference opponent.
While tonight is an away game, it's one of the CBJ's best opportunities to win against the Pens in a long, long while. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are out of the lineup. For most teams, losing two players of that caliber would be crippling. For Pittsburgh, it dropped them to 4th in the East (but 3rd in total points)...they've been that good. It won't get any easier when they return, so why not jump at the chance to take a win while they're staggering?
So let's hope the team Carries The Flag into the Steel City, takes advantage of the incredible opportunity to knock the Pens down on their home ice and grabs the two points. Not only would it help vis a vis the playoffs, it would be very, very satisfying to the fans who root them on.