For the first time in longer than I want to consider, the Blue Jackets walked away with a victory they had no real business earning. On the road, on a Saturday night, they found two points in a game that found them badly outshot, with a goaltending performance that you would have to go back years to find in any sort of real frequency.
I enjoyed the game from a local Columbus Buffalo Wild Wings, and had a tremendous time. With great friends comes great conversation, along with first rate service and really cool speaker boxes that sat on our table and played the audio of the game despite the rest of the bar being interested in college basketball (don't get me started). Despite the disappointment in only a small handful of patrons with Blue Jackets garb on, the goals were welcomed with reasonable cheer, most notably from our table.
I braced for a beating, and took the Setoguchi goal in stride later on in the first period. The turnovers were not as frequent, but the puck found itself in the slot alone on a reasonably capable scorer, and sure enough was vaulted over Mason's catching glove into the top corner of the net to send Minnesota to the 1-0 lead. What followed was shocking.
With a minute left in the period, better known as one of the consistently worst minutes of hockey for Columbus this year, they managed to tie the game. Brassard made a tremendous cross ice pass to Nash, who found Umberger open back towards the middle of the ice. From there, Umberger was able to sneak the puck through Backstrom just enough to knot the game, and boost his notably disappointing goal total on the year to 8.
More shocking was the final minute of play in the second period, which was arguably Columbus' best of the game (outshooting Minnesota 7-5). Umberger once again found the back of the net on a point shot by Wisniewski that appeared to be deflected by Vermette on the way to the net. RJ scored a very "RJ-esque" goal by fighting a rebound over Backstrom, and suddenly the Jackets had the lead along with a goal in the final minute of two straight periods. Again, after having watched 50+ games this year, that concept seemed entirely out of reach.
It was a matter of luck that Wisniewski was able to seal the deal in the final minute of the third period, lifting the puck high on a clear from his own zone, only to watch it hop strangely forward, and bank off the post and into the net. It was his third goal of the year, and in his first game back from his broken foot, gave him a goal, an assist, and over twenty one minutes of ice time. It would be hard to suggest that his impact on the game wasn't felt throughout the lineup, possibly none more than the goalie who has found the most ire this year from fans.
Let me repeat that. Three goals in the game, all in the final minute of a period. Call it 'karma' or 'being due' or whatever you want, that is a tremendous way to win hockey games, and can be incredibility debilitating for opposition to get a late period goal.
Legitimately, Steve Mason was brilliant, finishing the evening with a .971 save percentage. A tremendous save in each of the three periods made the difference in the game. The first period had a stretched out low glove save on a bad defensive error. The second period included a save where the puck almost crossed the line only to have Mason fall back and sweep his arm in just enough time to stop it from going in. Finally, in the third period, a sweeping glove save that was worth a second look as a Minnesota player had time to wind up and fire a shot destined for the far post. In short, I have plenty of confidence in suggesting that Mason played one of his best games of the year, and really gave me hope that when the Jackets do find him a new home, he will at least garner SOME return.
The 19-35 shot disadvantage concerned me quite a bit, including a third period that found them being outshot 15-2. With the repetitive nature of the 'we are not intending to protect the lead' comments, I can't help but wonder if it is a lack of killer instinct that plagues this locker room so deeply. After taking all of Minnesota's energy after late period goals in both the first and second period, I really felt that Columbus would have been poised well enough to come out firing in the third and really separate themselves on the scoreboard, but they didn't. Obviously these are great thoughts to take into the off-season, but I would really enjoy a sixty minute game where the team didn't let off the gas pedal throughout.
I know I have become a bit of a broken record (especially on twitter) regarding my satisfaction for Brassard's transformation after the Arniel firing, but he has been tremendous lately. He continues to make great plays with the puck and has factored in game after game in big time goals, many of which change the landscape of the game. I certainly hope if his name is on the trading block, the expected return grows daily.
The Blue Jackets will be returning home to play Anaheim on Sunday night, and I have high hopes that they can play another competitive game. The #CBJtweetUp promotion will be well represented by CTF, and I am personally looking forward to spending time with my fellow CBJ fans discussing the team and other interests. I hope to provide a detailed recap of this exciting event, as well as taking in some of the game if I am not too distracted.
Carry the Flag!