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Jackets might have awakened a sleeping giant

by Mike G. Morreale
COLUMBUS -- One has to wonder if the Columbus Blue Jackets did more harm than good by posting an 8-2 regular-season victory over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in March.

Did the lop-sided game awaken a sleeping giant? Ever since that embarrassing setback, the Red Wings have gone 4-0 against Columbus, outscoring the Blue Jackets, 16-2.

"I think maybe their season turned around a bit there and prepared them to turn it up a notch, especially against us," Columbus forward R.J. Umberger said.

The last three victories have come in the Western Conference Quarterfinal series which the Wings can officially clinch with a victory in Game 4 at Nationwide Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, TSN2).

"We know teams like Columbus play well at the start of the games and if they get some goals right from the start, it gets the adrenaline going and the crowd going and it's hard to stop," Wings forward Johan Franzen said.

In that March 7 loss to Columbus, the Red Wings yielded two goals in the opening 8:05. Detroit's Marian Hossa knows the Blue Jackets are going to come out with similar fervor Thursday.

"Nobody wants to be swept and they are going to be ready for us," Hossa said. "We just have to make sure we come out strong like we did on Tuesday (in Game 3). We know that the first 10 minutes are key and you have to be patient. If we do that, we'll be fine. We'll just try and keep them quiet by scoring in the first 10 minutes."

The Red Wings have opened the scoring in all three games, so the Blue Jackets know the pendulum must swing at least once in this series.

"We have to play for one game to stay alive in this series and it has to be our best game so far," Umberger said. "We haven't played a complete game yet and let's try and get that first goal and see what happens."

Umberger, the recipient of a legal hip check by Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart in Game 3 that has been a big topic of discussion the last two days, practiced Thursday morning and declared himself ready to go. That's good because Umberger has been the only Columbus player to score on Detroit goalie Chris Osgood this series.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock is confident that will change even though the odds are squarely against his team. He was constantly barking out commands during his team's brisk, 20-minute morning workout Thursday. Only two clubs, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the '75 New York Islanders, have rallied after being down 0-3 in a playoff series.

"We don't need any special performances tonight," said Hitchcock, who will have Antoine Vermette skating between Umberger and Rick Nash on his top line for Game 4.

"The difference in this series so far has been Detroit's depth,” Hitchcock said. "(Pavel) Datsyuk has just one point after three games. How many playoff teams can say their top scorer has one point yet their team is up by three games in the playoffs? What we need is 5 percent more from everyone on our team to catch up with their depth."

Lineup shuffle --
As expected, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock has juggled his lines for the fourth-straight game.

"We made some adjustments in the third period of Game 3 and, while they were radical changes, they seemed to work, so we'll see if they work for a full 60 minutes tonight," Hitchcock said.

The Blue Jackets outshot the Red Wings, 14-6, in the third period of Game 3 while connecting on their first power-play goal of the series.

The lineups were as follows:


Jan Hejda will skate in warm-ups, but if he can't go, the lineup will be:


No Nikita --
There has been some speculation among the local media that rookie center Nikita Filatov, the sixth pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, would be in the lineup on Thursday.

"Derick Brassard (upper body injury) and Filatov won't be with us," Hitchcock confirmed. "This is a hockey club that has put their heart and soul into everything and I don't think it would look good on me or the coaching staff if we bailed on people who've been giving us everything all year. Tryouts for our team and those other players will be next September."

Filatov posted 4 goals in 8 games with a plus-3 rating for the Blue Jackets this season.

Ailing defense --
The Blue Jackets' top defensive pair of Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda, who combined for 45 points and a plus-34 rating in the regular season, have struggling mightily against the swift and skillful Detroit skaters in the postseason.

The duo has been held pointless and is a combined minus-10 in three games. Commodore, who leads the club with 12 hits this postseason, could be paired with Marc Methot for Game 4, however, as Hejda is currently struggling to overcome an right ankle ailment.

"It's been a challenge because Detroit has had the puck for most of the three games and I can't really remember more than one or two shifts where I was actually on the offensive blue line."
-- Mike Commodore

"Jan never played in the playoffs and Mike has never played a team this good in the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "I think they've held their own, but haven't been dominating at the level they were in the regular season and that's because the competition is substantially better. They are going out there against good lines and are called upon to kill penalties. They've had to handle a lot."

Hejda didn't play in the third of Game 3 after getting hit on the right ankle by a first-period shot. He wasn't present during Thursday's morning skate.

"It's been a challenge because Detroit has had the puck for most of the three games and I can't really remember more than one or two shifts where I was actually on the offensive blue line," Commodore said. "We just haven't had the puck that much so it's been challenging for us. We've been trying and I've been trying but the bottom line is they've been playing very well."

Follow the bouncing puck --
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brett Lebda knows stifling the opposition requires much more than just preventing shots on goal.

"It all starts with our puck control," Lebda told "It's a lot easier to play defense when you have the puck all the time and we take a lot of pride in it because a lot of guys on this team have done it for so long. We young guys can watch veterans like Nick (Lidstrom), Raffi (Brian Rafalski) and Chelie (Chris Chelios) and learn a lot. We take pride in what we do and our forwards make it a lot easier for us as well by getting back."

It also helps to have a red-hot goalie between the pipes. Detroit's Chris Osgood has been just that, stopping 76 of 78 shots in this series.

"He's playing the best I've ever seen him play," Hossa said. "He's confident and on top of his game right now. He was tough to beat in the playoffs last year and right now it seems like he's the same way. It's tough to beat him and he's been strong the last three games."
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