Huselius, Umberger, Williams, Brassard. These are not household names for many hockey fans, and yet they have the Columbus Blue Jackets poised to make a run in the playoffs.
Getting into the playoffs may seem like an accomplishment in itself for a team that has yet to make the playoffs.
But they won't stop there.
This team with one legitimate star, a no name defense, and a rookie goaltender is my early pick to cause a commotion in the playoffs. Think Calgary Flames circa 2004, Anaheim Ducks when they were still Mighty and not Stanley Cup Champions, or the 2006 Edmonton Oilers.
All were teams that preached sacrificing everything for the team, suffocating defense, and doing just enough to win games. Each of the aforementioned teams was led by one or two stars, a no-name defense, and a goaltender who could seemingly morph into a brick wall when their teams were in trouble. See a trend?
Columbus is a team that exemplifies all of these characteristics to the fullest.
When you think of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the first thing that comes to mind is Rick Nash. After that, the mind tends to wander. Nash is the prototypical franchise player: big (6-foot-4-inches, 218 lbs.), skilled (34 goals), and a born leader.
The Flames had Jarome Iginla, who fought tooth and nail to take his team to the finals. The Ducks had a resilient and skilled Paul Kariya, and the Oilers rallied around grizzled veteran Ryan Smyth.
Rick Nash has to take on a similar role if his team is to go anywhere in the playoffs. Scoring is not enough; he needs to take on the other team's star player, lay big hits, and play a strong defensive game. If he can do that, his unknown but strong supporting cast should be able to pick up the slack when the going gets tough.
No Name Defense
No names really jump out at you when looking over the defense on the Blue Jackets, and that's the way they like it.Their style of play is based on a team defensive effort, and the load is not put all on the shoulders of one stud (perhaps since the Jackets don't have one).
Most of the Jackets' defenders have never even played a postseason game, and this inexperience could come back to haunt them in the playoffs. However, the experience and leadership of Mike Commodore (a member of that 2004 Calgary team) will be able to calm down a young group of rearguards.
The Jackets play a defensive style that is very similar to the teams that they follow behind. All of them rode solid team play and extraordinary effort to the finals, and the Jackets look to follow the trend.
It is this team-oriented defense that will help Columbus stay in every game they play in in the postseason. Needless to say, though, defense is not the concern for the Jackets; secondary scoring is.
Miikka Kiprusoff for the Flames, J.S. Giguere for the Ducks, and Dwayne Roloson for the Oilers were the most recent tenders of the tangled twine who have made a name for themselves in the playoffs, and Steve Mason looks to follow in their footsteps.
Mason is looking in fine form as he heads into the playoffs, and worries about fatigue have been brushed to the side as he has continued his stellar play. He leads the league in shutouts and his calm and collected style of play has left shooters taking back fist pumps all year.
If he continues his solid play, especially behind Columbus's solid defensive unit, Mason could steal more than a few games for the Jackets; think more along the lines of a few rounds.
The only question is, can this kid handle the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs? Playing a road game against the Flames in the notorious Saddledome is a much different experience than playing at the Nationwide Arena in a regular season game against the Blues.
That question and many more will be answered as the Jackets continue to build toward the playoffs and earn the respect and surprise of all who stand in their path to Lord Stanley.