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Salmons' buddy carries the flag
04.23.2009  7:16 p.m.

When asked to describe the impact that Ryan Salmons has had on Columbus and the surrounding communities, former high school buddy and ice hockey teammate Tony Elliot didn't hesitate.

"Relentless -- that's the key word," Elliot told "Anything you throw at the kid, he's going to make it through and I can guarantee that."

By now, most of you have heard about Salmons and his incredible fight against a terminal cancer that has invaded the muscle tissue in his body. He's a huge Blue Jackets fan and has been an inspiring sight for players, coaches and staff members of the organization since being diagnosed with the disease in April 2008. He is the first player in the history of the Blue Jackets Foundation to actually be signed to a one-day contract by the NHL franchise -- which occurred March 25 at his Grove City home.

On Thursday evening, Elliot will make that traditional skate around Nationwide Arena with the Blue Jackets flag before placing it in its holder at center ice. It's something Ryan would have done if he could but, instead, he'll have his Hilliard Davidson High School buddy take the lap in his honor.

Salmons will be situated in Section 103 in the ADA handicap seats, which is where Elliot will appear when he name is called. There's no question the fans in Nationwide Arena will erupt when the announcement is made that Salmons' high school teammate will be carrying the flag.

"(Ryan) gave me a call on Tuesday night and said to me, "Hey, you're going to the game on Thursday; we have a ticket for you and you're going to be carrying the flag for Jackets in my honor,' " an emotional Elliot confessed. Elliot didn't have a ticket to the game prior to Salmons' call and is also a huge Blue Jackets fan.

"Ryan and I have been friends since the sixth grade and we were young kids just messing around and having a good time and (hesitation) … we got close in high school and had a special bond," Elliot said. "I started playing my sophomore year at Hilliard at Ryan and I were captains of the team. And that's how it started."

Elliot, a pharmaceutical business major at Ohio State, never doubted that his best friend would be fighting this hard and offering motivation after being diagnosed with the cancer alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

"I mean, he's got a smile on his face, telling people he's doing good even if he's in immense pain," Elliot said. "On Wednesday, he told me he was in a lot of pain but when my mom called him, he said he's doing great and said it laughing. I can't tell you how special a moment this will be. This is a memory I'll have for the rest of my life. I think it's really cool of him to ask me to do it, so I'll do it in honor of him."

-- Mike G. Morreale


Red Wings would like to finish off Jackets
04.23.2009  7:00 p.m.

Well, it's do or die for the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight before what is sure to be another capacity crowd at Nationwide Arena. An arena-record crowd of 19,219 witnessed the first Jackets' playoff game in Columbus in Game 3 on Tuesday.

The last time the Red Wings swept an opening-round series was 2000 when they eliminated the Los Angeles Kings and, prior to that, the Anaheim Ducks in 1999. Detroit lost in three of their seven chances to end a series last year during their Stanley Cup run, but have put together a 21-6 mark in those situations since 1997.

Last season, the Wings opened a 2-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators in the Conference Quarterfinals before allowing the Preds to battle back to tie the series. Detroit would eventually win the series in six games. In the Conference Final, the Wings opened a 3-0 series lead over the Dallas before allowing the Stars to win the next two games. The Wings would finally finish off that series in six.

"The elimination game is always a tough one," Wings center Johan Franzen said. "It would be good if we could do it tonight though. I remember what happened against Dallas last year where that series went six games, so it's always tough. They're going to fight for themselves because they want to show a good game for their crowd."

Said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom: "You want to finish off a team when you're up 3-0, especially when you're playing well because you want to continue to play well. You don't want to give them any life so that's why we want to come out with a strong effort tonight."

-- Mike G. Morreale

Saluting Lidstrom
04.23.2009  3:30 p.m.

As expected, much of the talk emanating from Nationwide Arena in Columbus this afternoon centered around one of the most respected athletes in the National Hockey League.

Four-time Stanley Cup champion Nicklas Lidstrom. The Detroit captain will be seeking a seventh Norris Trophy as the League's finest defenseman after earning a nomination for the award on Thursday along with Boston's Zdeno Chara and Washington's Mike Green.

Only Bobby Orr (8) and Doug Harvey (7) have garnered more Norris awards than the highest scoring Red Wings' defenseman of all time.

When told of the news, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock admitted the reason Lidstrom looks so effortless on the ice is because he knows how to use his stick.

"I don't find him difficult to play against but that's the problem," Hitchcock said. "He's not hard on you physically, but he pushes you into areas where you get frustrated. He angles you into areas that, by the end of the night, you're not drained physically, but worn mentally because he's got the best stick in the League. He's had the best stick in the League for 10 years now."

Said Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall: "He's just always in the right position, always makes the right play and just makes the game look really easy out there."

Center Johan Franzen was at a loss for words when asked to pinpoint Lidstrom's finest quality.

"I can't say enough about him; he makes everything look so easy for all the players he plays with," Franzen said. "Me and Homer (Tomas Holmstrom) know how good he shoots the puck from the point; he keeps his head up all the time and can somehow take something off to enable the guys in front to get their stick on it. We don't know how he does it but he makes everyone around him a lot better."

Columbus forward Jason Williams, a former teammate of Lidstrom's in Detroit, considers the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Swede as complete a player as there is in the NHL.

"He's so good one-on-one," Williams said. "The way he competes and the little things he does -- like making that first pass to the open forward with speed. It seems like an easy play to make, but it's not when you have two forecheckers coming in on you."

Lidstrom, while not regarded as a physically imposing stopper, also makes it difficult on a opposing forward with his ability to position himself properly.

"He just has a very good stick and makes it very hard to enter the blue line," Williams said. "His gap position is always right there and it's hard to come through the neutral zone with speed against him because he forces you to dump the puck a lot."

--Mike G. Morreale

Blue Jackets shuffle
04.23.2009 12:50 p.m.

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:


Defensively, Mike Commodore informed me following Thursday's skate that Jan Hejda would give it a shot early on. If Hejda can't go, here's the likely defensive pairs:


In goal, of course, Calder Trophy nominee, Steve Mason.

--Mike G. Morreale

Perfect Wings
04.23.2009  12:35 p.m.

There are a lot of things to like about the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock feels the same way and even shared a list during his morning press conference.

1-Detroit makes no positional mistakes.
2-Detroit makes no mistakes on entries into the zone.
3-Detroit makes no mistakes in retrieving the puck.

"They don't make those little mistakes, ever," Hitchcock said. "They know they have the skill to do damage, but they play error free and if you play error free this time of year, you're going to win a lot of close games."

--Mike G. Morreale

Blue Jackets focused
04.23.2009  11:25 a.m.

The Blue Jackets' practice session, a brisk 20-minute workout, was conducted at a feverish pace here at Nationwide Arena. Coach Ken Hitchcock continually barked out commands as his players went through as up-tempo a session as possible.

Columbus trails its best-of-7 Western Conference series against Detroit, 3-0, with Game 4 scheduled Thursday in Columbus.

The forwards were concentrating on wrist shots and maneuvers in tight, perhaps of sign of how desperate they have become to force rebounds against Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, who has been marvelous in this series. The defenders were lined up at the blue line, blasting away with the hope, again, to create more second and third chances.

Defenseman Jan Hejda, who did not play in the third period of Game 3 after getting hit on the right ankle by a first-period shot, wasn't present during Thursday's morning skate but usual partner Mike Commodore admitted he was probably "questionable."

"I think he's going to try again (Thursday), so we'll see," Commodore said. "I think he just blocked that shot in a bad spot. I think it'll be a game time."

Said captain Rick Nash: "Hopefully we can give our fans something to cheer about early (on Thursday night). The first goal in any game is important but even if we don't, it's a matter of sticking with the system and not going wondering off and trying our own things. We have to stick with it."

Currently waiting for Hitchcock's presser scheduled for 11:30 a.m. I'll find out more about Hejda at that time.

--Mike G. Morreale

One tough Umberger

04.22.2009 9:30 a.m.

Columbus forward R.J. Umberger was in no mood to talk about the big hit issued by Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart that sent him up-and-over late in the second period of his team's 4-1 loss in Game 3 on Tuesday night.

"I don't want to talk about the big hit, there is more to talk about," Umberger said. "We're down 0-3 and there are a lot of things we need to clean up. The hit is just a small part of the series."

"He's a tough guy," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's a guy you really admire as a player. It's going to take a lot to knock him out. I was impressed with the way he came back. No other way to describe it -- he's a tough guy."

The one consistent buzz among the local media contingent here in Columbus is that, after Rick Nash, Umberger has become an invaluable force for the Jackets in his first season with the club. And it's easy to see why.

Three years ago today, Umberger, then a member of the Flyers, suffered a concussion after receiving an open-ice hit from defenseman Brian Campbell, who was with the Buffalo Sabres at the time. Remarkably, he returned later in the series and even notched a game-winning goal.

On Jan. 21, Umberger was rammed so hard into the glass by Calgary's Dion Phaneuf that his helmet was knocked 15 feet into the air. But he returned to score his second goal of the game.

"I'm past that," Umberger said. "You can't play with fear out there. When you play with fear that's when you get hurt. There was never a question I was coming back in the game. I was fine."

Spoken like a true Buckeye! He's the only player to score against Detroit in this series and his second goal of the playoffs in Game 3 on Tuesday will forever be remembered as the first Blue Jackets goal in playoff history (at the 16:07 mark of the third period). The goal snapped Detroit goalie Chris Osgood's shutout streak at 144:27.

Umberger (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) played three seasons at Ohio State University from 2000-03, collecting 58 goals, 71 assists and 129 points in 112 games. As a freshman in 2000-01, he registered 37 points in 32 games and was named the CCHA Rookie of the Year. The following season, he led the Buckeyes in goals (18), assists (21) and points (39) in 37 games and in 2002-03, posted career highs with 26 goals, 27 assists and 53 points in 43 games to earn CCHA First All-Star Team and NCAA West Second All-American Team honors. The former first-round pick (16th overall) of the Vancouver Canucks in 2001 was signed by the Flyers as a free agent on June 16, 2004.

Columbus GM Scott Howson traded for Umberger at last June's Entry Draft in Ottawa.

--Mike G. Morreale

Hejda banged up
04.22.2009 9:00 a.m.

We'll find out more during this afternoon's skate at Nationwide Arena, but Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda did not play in the third period of Game 3 on Tuesday after getting hit on the right ankle by a first-period shot.

Already down 0-3 in this best-of-7, it would be a huge loss for the Blue Jackets if Hejda were unable to go on Thursday in Game 4. He ranked second on the club and was tied for 19th in the League with 157 blocked shots this season and broke the franchise record he set for plus/minus rating at plus-23. On top of that, he set career highs in goals (3), assists (18), points (21) and games played (82). Hejda had a blocked shot and two hits in a 4-1 loss to Detroit on Tuesday.

Hejda told reporteres following the game on Tuesday night that his ankle was not broken, but that the training staff decided to keep him out anyway. He was unsuccessful at finding the appropriate padding that would ease the discomfort within his skate. Right now, all signs point to Hejda gutting it out and playing Thursday.

--Mike G. Morreale

Commissioner's in Columbus

04.21.2009  8:28 p.m.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman traveled to Columbus on Tuesday to be on hand for the Blue Jackets' first-ever Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance in Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit. He talked to Fox Sports Ohio about it between the first and second period.

"We're seeing the evolution of the franchise before our very eyes," Bettman said. "It's great to see the partying [tailgating] outside before the game too."

The Commissioner spoke fondly of the late Blue Jackets owner John H. McConnell, noting how much he is missed. Bettman also said he was happy Jackets fans were able to experience postseason hockey.

"There is nothing in sports like Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey," Bettman said. "It's special in Columbus because the team has had a really competitive season."

--Bob Condor

Ramblings from Columbus

04.21.2009  7:05 p.m.

There were two items on the Blue Jackets' agenda prior to the opening face-off of Game 3 in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Red Wings.

Score the first goal
Unfortunately, the defending Stanley Cup champs wouldn't cooperate. Tomas Holmstrom, who hadn't registered a shot in this series, broke the ice just 1:07 into the contest, stuffing in a rebound of Marian Hossa's shot off the goal post. After killing off yet another Columbus power play, the Wings would then take a two-goal advantage with just 45 seconds remaining in the first when Dan Cleary scored his first of the playoffs.

Play with purpose and structure
The Jackets certainly showed plenty of moxie after falling behind early. There were plenty of big hits and the team seemed to attack the puck with a genuine purpose. Still the Wings are very sound in their own zone -- and when there were breakdowns, Chris Osgood was there to make a few tremendous saves. In particular, he stoned winger Kristian Huselius with less than seven minutes remaining in the opening period off a left-circle whistler that he snared with his left glove. Ozzie turned aside all 11 shots he faced in the first period, including two during a Columbus power play.

The Jackets also wanted to play a more physical game and, while they did, the Red Wings still held a 19-12 advantage in the hit department in the first, including three by defenseman Brad Stuart.

--Mike G. Morreale

The captain speaks
04.21.2009  7:05 p.m.

Was able to catch up with Columbus captain Rick Nash after practice Tuesday morning and posed four quick questions that he graciously answered.

1-What was the most surprising development for you in Game 2?
I thought we weren't as disciplined as we needed to be and that's something we need to work on moving forward.

2-What did your team do right in Game 2?
I feel our starts in both games were great. We came out flying and it's just a matter of keeping that intensity up.

3-What does your team need to build on?
We'd like to get that first goal, especially at home. The past couple of games, we've had a lot of chances but just couldn't seem to bury it. If we can get that first one, especially with our fans behind us, I think we'll be in better shape.

4-Has the pressure of playoff hockey affected this team?
There's always pressure in hockey games but players just have battle through and indulge in it and play even harder since it's harder. But we're comfortable and we know what we're getting and there aren't going to be many surprises from their team or their lineup. We know how they play, so it should be a good battle tonight.

--Mike G. Morreale

Face-off in Columbus
04.21.2009  6:55 p.m.

Well Stinger, the Blue Jackets mascot, is on the ice blasting T-shirts into the crowd. The fans are quickly filing in here at Nationwide Arena. It's noisy, it's electric, it's Blue Jackets playoff hockey!

The lights have gone down and the Blue Jackets flag is receiving its traditional skate around the perimeter of the ice. It now stands on the center ice faceoff dot and the fans here are about to burst.

"What if there was never an underdog? What if a challenge never stood in the way? What if the ones who always won, never did? What would be the glory in that?" The Cup is being shown on the jumbotron, highlights of Nash, Mason and the gang. Sound bites from coach Ken Hitchcock -- he's the best; what a teacher. There never has been a time when I didn't speak to Hitch and learn something new!

I expect the Blue Jackets to come out hard and sustain that style throughout. The buzz word around the locker room over the last two days has been "structure" and, to a man, each player feels as though the Red Wings' style has taken the Jackets off their game.

Sure sounds like a veteran team up against a first-year playoff club, eh?

It would certainly benefit the home team to break the ice this evening as the Wings have opened the scoring in the previous two encounters and gone on to relatively easy triumphs.

The fans are beginning a "Let's Go Jackets" cheer right now while the center ice jumbo-tron plays a pregame show that's stressing how the Jackets need to play their game and not become frustrated. Sounds easier said than done though.

--Mike G. Morreale

Brassard update
04.21.2009  6:00 p.m.

Columbus rookie center Derick Brassard, who has been sidelined since early January following shoulder surgery, is cleared for contact but I don't expect coach Ken Hitchcock to insert him into the lineup at this stage of the series against Detroit. Brassard, the sixth overall pick in the '06 Entry Draft, had 10 goals and 25 points in 31 regular season games.

--Mike G. Morreale

The importance of commitment
04.21.2009  5:55 p.m. ET

Detroit coach Mike Babcock provided interesting commentary on the importance of being committed as a hockey player, not just during playoff time, but all season.

"You don't just all of a sudden get to the playoffs and turn on the commitment as a player," Babcock said. "If you haven't worked hard or trained hard in the summer then you're not a high-end player. I think what you're seeing during playoff time is that there's less space and it's been documented over the years that certain players are really good at playoff time. You have to find a way to create your own space and execute under the pressure and once you do that, then you become a really important player to the organization."

If there's anyone in this League who knows all about a players' commitment, it's certainly Babcock. The guy has quite a few tucked away on his roster and it's a big reason the Wings secured a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 18th consecutive season. Its 18 straight trips to the postseason represents the longest current streak in professional sports.

Consecutive Playoff Appearances (Top streaks in each of the four major professional sports):
NHL - Red Wings (18)
NBA - San Antonio Spurs (11)
NFL - Indianapolis Colts (7)
MLB - Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels (2)

--Mike G. Morreale

The joint is jumping
04.21.2009  5:35 p.m. ET

Well, I arrived here at Nationwide Arena at around 4 p.m. to check out the Plaza Party outside and, despite the damp weather, fans have gathered in bunches. Tons of Columbus fans in Blue Jackets jerseys and the people are jacked up and ready to go.

There's a band outside and fans will be trickling inside the arena very soon. It should be quite a scene.

I saw 19-year-old Ryan Salmons (See story on front of and his father, Brad, just outside the zamboni shoot and while he did admit his back is aching a bit, he is here and ready to go. He and dad are both donning Columbus jerseys as well.

Commissioner Gary Bettman touched a bunch of topics during an informative 20-minute discussion with the media at 4:30 p.m. Among those topics, he discussed hockey in Columbus and how far the city has come since first entering the League in eight seasons ago.

"It was clear early on that Columbus was a city that could support a major league franchise. Obviously, it requires an ongoing basis, fan support and corporate community support and while the franchise may have taken a little longer to reach this point than some of the fans would have hoped, I'm glad everyone has experienced what it's all about," Bettman said. "So as we begin a new chapter in Blue Jackets fan development and life, it's good to see. I never had a moment of doubt and I believe this city will support the franchise as much as it possibly can."

-- Mike G. Morreale

Jackets line juggling
04.21.2009  1:15 p.m. ET

It shouldn't come as a much of a surprise that Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock will again mix up the line combinations with the hope of ratcheting up the offense and getting that needed victory in front of the home crowd tonight at Nationwide Arena.

Here were the line combinations at the Tuesday morning skate:
1-Rick Nash-Antoine Vermette-Kristian Huselius
2-Jakub Voracek-R.J. Umberger-Jason Williams
3-Fredrik Modin-Manny Malhotra-Jason Chimera
4-Raffi Torres-Michael Peca-Derek Dorsett

The top defensive pair on the ice during the session was Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda.

One interesting aspect to keep an eye on Tuesday night is how Hitch utilizes his defensive pairs against the quick and mobile Detroit forwards. You kind of got the feeling the veteran coach considered it more important having the right defensemen out against certain forward lines of the Wings.

Nothing has changed with regard to the line combos for the Wings. Coach Mike Babcock and a few of his assistants, by the way, were watching the Columbus practice from the stands early this morning. Of course, that didn't faze Hitch at all. We should be in for a good one tonight.

--Mike G. Morreale

Lidstrom provides big assists on offense and defense
04.21.2009  1:07 p.m. ET

Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom registered his 108th career playoff assist on Saturday in Detroit's 4-0 victory over Columbus in Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal best-of-7 series.

He's currently tied with former New York Islander Denis Potvin in seventh place on the NHL's all-time playoff assist chart. But Lidstrom's value goes much deeper than assist marks when it comes to playoff hockey as his ability to assist in shutting down many of the League's top goal-scorers this time in the season has become an absolute necessity.

Against Columbus, it's been Rick Nash, who led his team in goals (40), assists (39) and points (79) through 78 regular-season games. Nash has been rendered pointless through two games of this series.

"I think we've had a lot of backside pressure with the forwards coming back hard and trying to take (Columbus') time and space away," Lidstrom said. "You stand up at the blue line and give them less time and space with the puck. If you do that, you will be more successful but you have to be careful to have that backside pressure to.

"As a defenseman, you're always trying and close the gap between you and them and not backing in too much," he continued. "If you give him time, he'll make so you close the gap and try to stand up to him at the blue line."

--Mike G. Morreale

Nash goes about his business
04.21.2009  1:00 p.m. ET

Columbus wing Rick Nash doesn't appear frustrated or fazed -- yet -- over his inability to register a point through two games of this series.

Still, when questioned about his offensive woes in this Western Conference Quarterfinal series, the words "tight', "not a lot of room" and "not getting much time" are used on more than once occasion.

You know darn well it's something that has to change, however, as the Blue Jackets were 18-9-4 during the regular season when Nash scored at least once and 28-11-7 when he posted as least one point.

"No matter what, you have to compete against whoever is out there, so while it'll be nice to get the last line change playing on home ice, you still have to outwork them," Nash said.

Expect Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock to try and get his 40-goal scorer on the ice when Detroit defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are off. Nash was limited to just three shots in a 4-0 Game 2 loss on Saturday.

The bottom line is Nash will be up against a team that is built to stop him, so perhaps some home cooking from the Columbus faithful will offer some needed assistance.

--Mike G. Morreale

Matching lines with Nash
04.21.2009 11:50 a.m. ET

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock is a master tactician, but he hasn't been successful keeping Rick Nash away from the matchups Detroit coach Mike Babcock has desired.

Nash, who has been playing with Manny Malhotra and Kristian Huselius, but may see Antoine Vermette moved to his line for Game 3, had 23 more points than any of his teammates during the regular season, but has no points and a minus-2 rating so far in this series while going up against Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. That trio’s main concern might be to stop Nash, but they also have six points in the first two games.

Hitchcock still knows that his star has to power through this match up and improve if Columbus is going to come back to win this series.

"You can spend your whole series trying to get away from people," Hitchcock told the Columbus Dispatch. "Or you can just roll up your sleeves and dig in and out-compete them. That's the mind set you’ve got to get into."

Hitchcock did concede that he would try to get Nash away from the Zetterberg-Franzen-Cleary line, particularly now that the series has shifted to Columbus where the Blue Jackets have the last change after a stoppage in play.

"I get the matchups now," Hitchcock told the Columbus Dispatch. "So let's see if we can make it harder on them than it's been up to this point."

-- Adam Schwartz

The motivating force for the Blue Jackets

04.21.2009  8:15 a.m. ET

It isn't often a writer from is given an opportunity to stand in the presence of an individual so inspiring that you just wish the day would never end.

But, on Monday afternoon, I was given that chance when I stood bedside before 19-year-old Ryan Salmons for a special one-on-one conducted right from his home in Grove City, Ohio.

Salmons has become a source of inspiration to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the surrounding communities ever since he was diagnosed with terminal cancer back in April 2008. I hearty thanks goes out to Ryan's incredible father, Brad, who offered me a ride to their beautiful home nestled 20 minutes away from downtown Columbus and Nationwide Arena.

Ryan's story will be posted on this afternoon and it's one you certainly do not want to miss, particularly since tonight's game in Columbus will mark the first playoff game in team history. Having an opportunity to be a part of this game was something the former high school center-turned-defenseman had been dreaming of since the inception of the team into the League eight seasons ago.

When I arrived at the home, his paternal grandparents, Margaret and Carl Salmons, were there, as they are every morning from 7:30 a.m. up and until Brad Salmons arrives from work around mid-day. His dog, a Weimaraner named Abby, is also always by his side and, each night, rests her head on Ryan's belly and falls asleep with him.

I purchased a Ryan Salmons' T-shirt and had the big guy even sign it for me. "To Mike, Go Jackets…Ryan Salmons" was the inscription. His room is chock full of autographed memorabilia, ranging from signed NHL jerseys to a signed get-well letter from bicyclist Lance Armstrong.

What amazed me most was his demeanor and how he has dealt with his incredibly difficult situation. Never once did he complain during my approximate 30-minute stay. While chatting with Brad in the car en route to the house, the family patriarch was telling me how difficult is had been over the last year not being able to do the things that normal fathers and sons are able to do. But, when I asked Ryan about his relationship with dad in the last year or so, his response just blew me away and, by the look on his face, dad as well.

Here's a quick sampling of that response that can be read in its entirety on

"Granted, we're not doing the things that a father and son would normally do, like play a round of golf or go on vacation, but this last year has been one of the better years of our lives just because how close we are together," Ryan told me.

Ryan Salmons is a true angel and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to meet the family on Monday. No one really knows how much time Ryan has left -- it could be a week, it could be longer. But we all know the inspirational force he has become and the last impression he will leave us for the remainder of our lives.

Thanks Ryan.

-- Mike G. Morreale

A reason to celebrate in Columbus
04.20.2009  7:55 P.M. ET

The excitement is building here in Columbus, where on Tuesday the Blue Jackets host the first Stanley Cup Playoff game in franchise history.

Columbus finished 41-31-10 (92 points) and earned the seventh seed in the Western Conference while winning the most games in franchise history and registering the most points.

The Jackets are inviting fans to celebrate the excitement of the team's first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by visiting the "March On" Pre-Game Plaza Party prior to their home games on Tuesday, Thursday and, if necessary, Monday. The parties on the Front St. plaza will run from 3:30-6:30 p.m. before the 7 p.m. start. In fact, at each party, one lucky fan will win a pair of tickets to that evening's game.

During an energetic practice conducted by Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock on Monday morning, the club's Vice President of Public Relations, Todd Sharrock, told me he and his staff are bubbling over with anticipation.

"The people have waited a long time for this and while Columbus has hosted NCAA tournament games and some other events, there's nothing quite like an NHL playoff game and we'll get our first taste of that on Tuesday," Sharrock told me. "It's just too bad rain is in the forecast for Tuesday, but I'm sure the atmosphere inside this place will be unbelievable."

I was able to catch up with Columbus General Manager Scott Howson, who is hoping for a victory in the first playoff game on his home turf.

"We've got to try to now make this a series and this is our opportunity here in Game 3," Howson said. "We've got to try and change the momentum a little bit."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will also be in attendance at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday to soak in the atmosphere of his first playoff game in Columbus.

--Mike G. Morreale

Draper remains sidelined
04.20.2009  7:55 P.M. ET

Detroit coach Mike Babcock, whose team arrived at The Columbus Renaissance hotel at approximately 4:45 p.m. on Monday, informed the media that center Kris Draper would be sidelined for the third straight game on Tuesday.

Draper, who did not play in Game 1 or Game 2 because of an upper body injury, was re-evaluated before the final decision was made.

Draper played in 79 games this season and posted 7 goals and 17 points.

-- Mike G. Morreale

Shooting them themselves in the foot
04.18.2009  6:59 P.M. ET

For the second game in a row, the Blue Jackets put a puck into their own net. In Game 1, Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson scored the go-ahead goal on a shot that Manny Malhotra tried to grab with his glove.

In the first period of Game 2, a shot from Brian Rafalski was heading wide of the net, until it was deflected past goalie Steve Mason by the stick of Fedor Tyutin. The Red Wings lead 1–0.

-- Colin Kelly

Another postseason for Chelios
04.18.2009  5:39 P.M. ET

If Detroit’s Chris Chelios finds his way into tonight's game against Columbus, he’ll be extending a couple of his own playoff records.  One will be most seasons with a postseason appearance, with 24, having missed the playoffs only once in his career (1997-98). Chelios also owns the record for most games played--260 and counting. Look for the 47-year-old defenseman on the ice tonight, especially if the Wings take control of the game and series.

Speaking of records, Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom set one of his in Game 1, becoming the first player in team history to appear in 17 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs. It was his 215th career playoff game, a club record and the NHL mark for a European-born player. Lidstrom has never missed a playoff game in his career.

-- Colin Kelly

Jackets need the puck

04.18.2009  5:25 P.M. ET

Columbus showed no opening-night jitters Thursday, despite playing the first playoff game in franchise history against the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. The Jackets carried the play for much of the first period and had several good chances among their 13 shots.

They even rebounded quickly after falling behind 1-0 midway through the second period, getting the tying goal from R.J. Umberger 52 seconds after the Wings scored.

But the Wings won the Cup last spring largely because they were better than anyone else at hanging on to the puck, and they did just that in the final 27 minutes against Columbus. After goals by Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall less than a minute apart made it 3-1 late in the second period, the Wings completely shut down Columbus' offense. The Jackets had just two shots on goal in the third period, eight in the final two and only 21 for the game.

Columbus also has to improve in the faceoff circle. Detroit won 32 of 56 draws (57.1 percent), meaning that the Wings had the puck much more often. That was especially true when Pavel Datsyuk was in the circle -- Datsyuk won 14 of 19 faceoffs.

For the Jackets to even the series, they've got to have the puck more often. That will mean winning more draws and playing a more physical game against a team that's the best in the NHL at playing keep-away.

-- John Kreiser

Wings fly from the blueline

04.16.2009  9:49 P.M. ET

The two goals that broke Game 1 open for the potent Red Wings came from an unexpected source: the defense. With the game knotted at one, blueliner Jonathan Ericsson, who only played 19 regular season games with Detroit this season, was credited with a goal  that Columbus' Manny Malhotra redirected into his own net; then, 48 seconds later, defenseman Niklas Kronwall slapped in a shot on the power play. The two had a combined seven goals during the regular season, but half of the Wings' goals in their 4-1 Game 1 win over the Blue Jackets.  

-- Colin Kelly

Don't knock Ozzy
04.16.2009  8:02 PM EST

One of the few knocks on the Red Wings entering the playoffs was the shaky play of Chris Osgood. His GAA swelled to a career-high 3.09 this season, a sign that the 36-year old was starting to show his age.  But in the first period of Game 1 against the Blue Jackets, the veteran netminder looked extremely sharp.  He's done this all before -- he does have three Stanley Cups, including 2008.

His first test came 90 seconds in, after Brad Stuart turned over the puck to Jason Chimera in the defensive end. Osgood came through with a diving stop to prevent a goal and set the stage for several more spectacular plays. Osgood finished the period with 14 saves, helping to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes.

-- Colin Kelly
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