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Jackets head home hoping to regroup

by Larry Wigge
As a team, the Columbus Blue Jackets are getting their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Advancing past the first round seems to be a tall order, especially against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

However, defenseman Mike Commodore helped Calgary beat Detroit in the playoffs in 2004 en route to the Flames' trip to the Stanley Cup Final and forwards Michael Peca and Raffi Torres eliminated the Red Wings in the first round in 2006 when they were with Edmonton and the Oilers made it to the Final.

And don't forget Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock made it to the Final and won with Dallas in 1999, then brought the Stars back against New Jersey the following year only to fall short in double overtime of Game 6.

Now the Jackets have their backs to the wall, down 0-2 in their Western Conference Quarterfinal going home to Columbus for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday.

"We're going back home to play," Hitchcock said. "We're going to compete until the end and we'll see. Both games they checked us really hard. They really competed.

"We've competed for parts of the games. We got probably 40 minutes tonight after 32 minutes in the first game. They just flat play 60. Good teams like that play 60. The question for us is: Are we going to learn what it's like to have to play 60 minutes? Even if we played 50, it won't be enough to beat this team.

"I think we can play 60 and our job right now is to take it home. We're going to have to face the pressure that's going to face us to make this a long series."

And pressure in the playoffs normally starts and finishes with special teams. In Game 1, Detroit was 1-for-4 on the power play. The Red Wings struck for three more goals in their first five man-advantage situations in Game 2. That's Detroit's skill and will to succeed vs. Columbus' NHL-worst power play at 12.7 percent in the regular season and a problem matching up against the Wings' power-play unit.

"They certainly know how to ramp it up in the playoffs," Columbus center Jason Chimera said. "One thing is certain: It's tough enough to hold their best players down, but we definitely can't keep putting them out there on the power play where their best players have time and space."

The key is that Hitchcock will have the last line change at home in Columbus, which could be a big benefit to Rick Nash. The captain's 40 goals and 39 assists in the regular season have been negated by two straight scoreless games in the playoffs against Detroit, which has always had defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on the ice against Nash's line. Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen have been able to use their big bodies up front to lean on Rick.

"Hitch has the last change," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We'll see what kind of matchups he wants to create there. We're lucky to have such strength down the pipe with Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) or Z (Henrik Zetterberg) or Fil (Valtteri Filppula), so it doesn't matter as much how we play our guys."

But the home ice also gives the Blue Jackets the advantage of seeing Detroit centers have to put their sticks down first on faceoffs, which has been a cause celebre in this series so far.

Change? Hitchcock's secretive changes for Game 2 turned out to be cosmetic at best since the Jackets have only one goal by R.J. Umberger in the first two games. Kristian Huselius, who now has not scored a goal in 18 playoff games since 2006, was replaced by Fredrik Modin on the No. 1 line with Nash and Manny Malhotra. Huselius replaced Jakub Voracek on the second line with Umberger and Antoine Vermette, and Voracek replaced Modin on the third line with Torres and Jason Williams. On the fourth line, Peca and Jason Chimera were joined by Derek Dorsett, who replaced Jared Boll.

"These games are finished. We're not done yet," Nash said. "We didn't play so well in the regular season to fold up and go home to lose right now. We'll be ready to compete."

Detroit's 34-21 edge in shots in Game 1 and 39-24 advantage in Game 2 underscores the Red Wings' puck possession game is percolating on all cylinders -- and that's a concern to the Jackets.

"We need to take care of the puck better," Commodore said. "You can't just keep giving it back to them. We've got to be more patient and creative with the puck."

That coming from a guy who has taken the Red Wings to the limit and won -- even if it was back in 2004.

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