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THN.com Blog: Jackets must come out buzzing to keep playoff hopes alive

Columbus' Raffi Torres, Mike Commodore, Rick Nash , Manny Malhotra and Jan Hejda will all have to step up to keep the Blue Jackets in the playoff hunt. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty

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Columbus' Raffi Torres, Mike Commodore, Rick Nash , Manny Malhotra and Jan Hejda will all have to step up to keep the Blue Jackets in the playoff hunt. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty

If the Columbus Blue Jackets are serious about making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, these next few games are of the utmost importance.

So, if you want to see Adam Proteau in Civil War-era attire, it’s time to start rallying behind these underdogs.

Columbus kicks off the stretch drive Tuesday night at home to the Detroit Red Wings who, thanks to a post-all-star gift from the commissioner, will be without stalwart defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and the electrifying Pavel Datsyuk. What better way to start a playoff push than to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions, a.k.a. the “team to beat.”

That would certainly get the Jackets off on the right foot and since the next four games represent the team’s longest home stretch for the rest of the season, you’d have to think Columbus has to come away with six – or at the very least, five – points if they are indeed for real.

After hosting Detroit, the Jackets get two nights off before the dreadful Ottawa Senators hit town. The following night it’s the underachieving Dallas Stars. As big as the Detroit game is for Columbus, they absolutely must knock off the charging Stars at home. Dallas has, for whatever reason, been unable to click this season, but the team is finally, slowly, coming together. If Columbus starts the half lethargic, Dallas is one of the teams that could be serving the Jackets with a heaping helping of dust.

After the Stars exit town, the Jackets have two more days off before facing the rebuilding Blues. This one is another must-win because it’ll send them out to Pittsburgh on either a high or a low. If Columbus can’t even rally to finish a home stretch with a win over St. Louis, they’ll be in trouble when the next homestand rolls around and San Jose and Detroit both come to town.

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Of course, one of the big things everyone will be watching when it comes to this team is their power play. Currently last in the league, Columbus has to get its motor running on the man advantage or the sheer amount of missed opportunities will begin to conspire against a playoff bid. With the trade deadline coming up, the Jackets could decide this is the time to make a push and make a run at acquiring someone like Tomas Kaberle or Mathieu Schneider.

Surely the on-ice performance isn’t the only thing that will determine Columbus’ fate this season. The injury bug has been cruel to them so far and with Derick Brassard done for the year and Nikita Filatov, Kristian Huselius and Rostislav Klesla currently on the mend, the Jackets are going to be leaning on Rick Nash and their lesser-lights quite a bit more.

Add to that the fact Pascal Leclaire is on the shelf and Steve Mason has had a bothersome back and the Jackets are really teetering on the precipice of another letdown.

Judgment day for the Blue Jackets is upon us; these are the tests playoff teams must pass. Failure to do so will be a whole lot of the “same old Blue Jackets” – an underdog team that would be nice to see in the playoffs, but ultimately one that will succumb to the pressure and demands of what it takes to squeeze into the top eight.

And if they do get in? Don’t worry, I won’t let Adam forget about his promise.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his feature, A Scout's Life, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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