The Columbus Blue Jackets have given us a great season, full of franchise records and team firsts. But all the expectations those achievements created are being threatened by a massive scoring slump at exactly the wrong time.
Nationwide Arena was throbbing with emotion Sunday for a CBJ showdown with the Washington Capitals that Jackets partisans hoped would reassure them their team is a worthy challenger for the Stanley Cup.
But after the Capitals 3-2 victory, Blue Jackets faithful are left to confront a much more sobering reality that the team's sudden inability to score goals will end their season quickly in the playoffs.
Columbus is fifth in the NHL in scoring this year, but no matter how head coach John Torotella has stacked the lines recently, the Jackets need a GPS to find the back of the opposing net.
Tortorella has also tinkered with his power-play unit, but no amount of adjusting or tweaking has made a difference.
The Blue Jackets went 0-for-4 with the man advantage at Chicago and 0-for-2 against the Capitals in what proved to be their first three-game losing streak of the season.
That makes them 0-for-19 on the Power Play over their last 10 games.
The loss to Washington means the Jackets have scored 11 goals in their last 7 games, including one in an overtime loss at Carolina on Thursday, one in a loss at Chicago on Friday and 2 in the third period Sunday against the Capitals.
So I'm not confident Columbus will be able to keep pace on Tuesday night against the high-scoring, defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
If the Pens win that game, they'll have a three-point lead on the Blue Jackets in the standings. That's a decent cushion with only three games left in the regular season, which would essentially hand Pittsburgh home-ice advantage in a first-round playoff series against Columbus.
All year long, while the Blue Jackets were setting records for points and wins, the standard of success for this season has always remained winning the first playoff series in franchise history.
But given how things are going now, it's hard to see how Columbus can win such a series against the Penguins unless the Blue Jackets get things straightened out on offense.
Slumps come and go in a long, 82-game season, of course, so it's entirely possible the Blue Jackets will shake off this scoring malaise and find their footing for the post-season.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky gives Columbus a chance to win every night. And a hot goaltender like Bobrovsky can carry a team a long way in the playoffs.
It's also possible that if the Jackets lose at Pittsburgh and lose their final home game Thursday against Winnipeg, they may sit Bob for the final two games over this coming weekend to make sure he's well-rested for the Pens.
And that may prove down the road to have worked to Columbus advantage.Captain Nick Foligno hopes the Blue Jackets can gain some confidence from taking the long view of their season, not fret over the snapshot of the past two weeks, when things have grown cold in the scoring department.
"We have to understand in here that we're a great team too," Foligno said. "You don't get this many points by fluke. We belong in this company. Now it's going out there and making sure your game is where it needs to be. The games we're playing, the emotional level will be there. So it's making sure you're getting yourself sharp."
The truth is, we just don't know what's going to happen in the playoffs. But I do know this: you absolutely, positively cannot win if you don't score.
So the Blue Jackets better start doing that again. And fast.
I don't mind viewers calling in rules violations in professional golf, but what happened to Lexi Thompson on Sunday wasn't fair to her.
Did she mis-mark her ball on Saturday? Absolutely.
Did she deserve the four-shot penalty, two for signing an incorrect scorecard and two for mis-marking the ball. Yes, she did.
But the poo-bahs of golf, which obsesses over fairness to the point that its rules are often arcane, shouldn't force a player to perform while thinking one thing and then change the score in mid-round.
I'd favor assessing all penalties from the previous day's round before the start of the next day's round. After that, what happens on the course -- and only what happens on the course -- decides the outcome.
I wish I'd thought of half the stuff on this site, but since I didn't, I'm loading up every time I'm there.