The Hooley, Wednesday, April 5

When it comes to the Columbus Blue Jackets, you can believe your eyes or you can believe the numbers.

One will tell you the truth and the other will lie to your face.

The Jackets enter their final home game of the regular season Thursday night against Winnipeg having lost four straight to fall out of contention for the President's Trophy as the best team in the NHL and likely fall into a first-round playoff home-ice disadvantage against defending champion Pittsburgh.

That's a significant plummet from the lofty perch the Jackets enjoyed throughout the season.

It's no mystery why the Jackets are struggling.

They can't score. That's as plain as the big green head on the team mascot, Stinger.

The Jackets have managed just eight goals in their last 12 games and they've scored more than twice just once in their last eight games.

Granted, the CBJ's last three losses came against Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh, the only three teams in the NHL with higher season point totals than the Jackets.

And if you're prone to search for the positive, you can deceive yourself with statistics that will flat-out lie to you about the Jackets' offensive performance in those losses.

For instance, the numbers say the CBJ outshot Pittsburgh on Tuesday by 12 and had 27 more shot attempts than the Penguins.

The numbers also say the Jackets hogged 67% of the shot attempts with the teams at even strength.

Likewise, the Jackets had more shots and more attempts than both the Blackhawks and the Capitals.

But do not be fooled by the calculator.

No matter what the numbers say, your eyes can plainly see that the Blackhawks, Capitals and Penguins dictated to the Blue Jackets in each loss. The CBJ played from behind in all three, and it never felt to me watching it like the Jackets generated more than a handful of likely scoring opportunities.

It's one thing to get lucky when a slapper from 40 feet away by a defenseman slides under the opposing goaltender when you're down 3-0 midway through the third period. That happened Sunday against Washington.

It's quite another to impose a goal on the opponent in the first period from a robust forecheck that sends the message, "We will not be denied tonight." That hasn't happened in awhile.

The Blue Jackets have relied too much on the former scenario and haven't produced nearly enough of the latter circumstance lately.

That is why their offense has gone from four bars to one and is SEARCHING FOR SIGNAL at the worst possible time of the season.

The playoffs are not the time for the offense to go dark. Sergei Bobrovsky is a phenomenal goaltender and he's capable of carrying the Blue Jackets a long way, but the best Bob can do in a scoreless game is keep us all up until 2 a.m. to watch a three- or four-overtime marathon that's going to end badly for the Blue Jackets if their forwards don't fine tune their GPS and start finding the back of the net.

The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Capitals have Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. The Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hosa -- all supremely-skilled guys who make you hold your breath every time they have the puck.

The Jackets have 11 guys with 10 goals or more. They're all capable, but nobody is responsible for scoring when things get tough.

And make no mistake, now is when things get tough.

The Blue Jackets need their leading scorers, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno and Brandon Saad to step up and lead BY EXAMPLE.

Atkinson has 34 goals, but he has only one in his last nine games. Foligno is the captain, and he's had a nice bounce-back year, but he's scored one goal in his last 11 games.

And I know Saad is just 24, but I also know he's the guy the Blue Jackets have who's been there, done that. He's won two Stanley Cups in Chicago, so he needs to show the way here. And the way not to do that is to score just two goals in the last 16 games.

Once the Blue Jackets put together a hot start and sustained their success, this season became all about getting the first playoff series win in franchise history.

Because the standings and the NHL's goofy playoff seeding fell the way it will, I'm not ready to label the season a failure if the CBJ falls short agaist the Penguins in the first round.

 But if they don't make it a competitive series, if they lose in five games or fewer, then it will be a rotten way to end what's been a phenomenal year

The Cavs play the Celtics tonight on 1057 The Zone. Tristan Thompson's streak of consecutive games played will come to an end because of a sprained thumb suffered in the Cavs' victory over Orlando on Wednesday.

The game at Boston is for leadership in the race for the top seed in the East. So, it's a big game.

Unless you're listening to LeBron James.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has to love LeBron reinforcing the sterotype that NBA players don't care about the regular season.

It can't be a good sign for Major League Baseball that the only players who show up on this list of America's 50 Favorite Pro Athletes includes Pete Rose and two other guys who don't play any more.

I can't imagine CBS sat down with Tony Romo and had him do test broadcasts to prove he's capable of becoming the network's top NFL game analyst.

The guys who already have those jobs must be pretty raw over a newcomer jumping over them to sit in the booth beside Jim Nantz.

So, it's a heck of a risk, by CBS.

But at least he gets to work with a guy who's always in a good mood.

Except when he's not allowed to hang a big oil painting of himself.

Win Maddie's Tickets every Monday-Friday at 8 a.m. on Spielman & Hooley.

And get your buddies together and show us what kind of golf game you've got on May 23 at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club. We're going to have a blast and we're going to, with your help, raise a lot of money for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research.

Do you know about this place? If not, you're missing out. And if you don't have plans on Saturday, particularly if you have kids, you'd be wise to check this out.

Going to the Masters on Thursday.? If so, you get one of these. If not, just search Ebay on Thursday afternoon.

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