With the first of two final games in 2010, the Jackets flew into the Air Canada Centre looking for a chance to pick up two points against the Eastern Conference, and to bump themselves closer to the playoff picture in the West.
With Steve Mason getting the start after his win against Minnesota on Monday, and both Derek Dorsett and Rusty Klesla returning to the lineup after being scratched against the Wild, the Jackets needed a good effort before returning home to face the Ottawa Senators tomorrow.
From the start, the Jackets brought several good chances against Jonas Gustavsson, including a loose puck in the crease that Jared Boll just couldn't quite get up with a backhand, but the Leafs would be the first to score (again), when Mike Komisarek blocked a Derek Dorsett shot, then passed off to Darryl Boyce, who flipped the puck almost to the middle of the Blue Jackets' zone before Clarke MacArthur was able to get control and collapse around Steve Mason with Nikolai Kulemin. A quick pass across the crease after Mason went down to attempt a check, and Kulemin was able to shoot the puck into the open side of the net to give Toronto a 1-0 lead over 15 minutes into the first period.
Just over a minute later, however, in a stunning moment of deja vu for anyone who recalled the last time the Jackets went up to Toronto in the '08-'09 season, Antoine Vermette was able to throw a stretch pass to Kristian Huselius, who streaked into the Toronto zone past the Leafs' defense with Rick Nash.
Unlike the game in '08-'09 where Juice made a last second pass to Nash for a tying goal, this time the Swedish winger would bury his own breakaway chance, going five hole on The Monster with a beautiful quick wrister.
Unfortunately, the Jackets would not be able to take the tie into the dressing room after Rostislav Klesla was called for a somewhat...questionable...boarding penalty late in the period.
The Jackets' PK started well, but after allowing the Leafs to rush the net late, Marc Methot would misplay the puck behind his own net, and Anton Stralman overskated past Phil Kessel while the Leafs' sniper would shovel the puck to a waiting Tyler Bozak at the side of the net, who threaded the puck past Steve Mason as the Jackets' netminder attempted to hug the post.
A bad goal, particularly late in the period, but one I put as much on Methot and Stralman as Mason, to be honest.
The good news is that the second period (and really, the rest of the game), were all Columbus going forward.
After taking several early shots at Jonas Gustavsson, Kristian Huselius would score again just before the 7:00 minute mark of the second period, taking a turnover right in front of the Leafs' net by Francois Beauchemin and backhanding the puck over a surprised Gustavsson for the tying goal.
Though the Jackets would push, outshooting Toronto 11-3 and generating a couple more "near miss" opportunities, the teams would be tied at two going into the third period.
The Jackets brought the pressure, and brought it hard, finally earning something the Jackets hadn't seen in several games....a power play opportunity!
Joey Crabb went to the box for holding, and the Jackets seized their advantage. Establsihing a cycle, Kristian Huselius would send the puck from the near boards to Kris Russel at the blue line, and Russ would dish off to Rick Nash just above the left faceoff dot, who fired a quick one-timer that was redirected into the net by the tip of R.J. Umberger's stick for the power play goal. (The play was originally credited to Nash, and Huselius given an assist as well, but the scoring would be changed later in the period.)
Umberger would nearly score a second goal a few minutes later in a scrum around the Toronto net, but the puck would ring off the post, and a second Jackets' power play generated pressure after Dion Phaneuf went off for slashing Rick Nash' stick out of his hands, but could not provide an insurance goal.
Despite some counter-attacks from the Leafs in the final five minutes of play, including pulling The Monster for an extra skater late, Steve Mason would shut the door, turning aside several late chances, and one lucky miss when Colby Armstrong shot wide on an open net, and the Jackets would collect a big road win before heading back to Columbus this evening.
Final Score: Jackets 3 - Leafs 2
- Kristian Huselius - The Juice was Loose tonight, and he showed some good hustle with the puck in addition to his two goals.
- Rick Nash - Drawing both penalties and credited with two assists tonight (though I'm really not clear how he got an assist on Juice's 2nd goal), Nash put on a show for his family and friends tonight, really pushing the club offensively.
- Steve Mason - We hoped for a good, consistent performance from Mason after his win Monday night, and I believe he delivered, stopping 20 of 22 shots. Neither goal was particularly "soft", and he didn't let the late goal in the first rattle his cage. A solid outing - I'd imagine it's a tough decision on going with the hot hand in Mason tomorrow, or putting in Garon to give Mason a break on the back to back.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Marc Methot - Generally a good night for Methot, actually, but his turnover on the penalty kill was a serious brainfart.
- Jared Boll - Boller had three chances on loose pucks in the crease or following up a rebound, and whiffed on all of them. He did a great job cleaning up garbage goals earlier - it would have been nice to have some insurance.
- Kyle Wilson - Wilson had some good plays tonight, but I felt like he made some rough turnovers and didn't show a hunger for the puck the way he has in the past.
Honestly, none of these guys were really bad, but just a case of little problems, little niggles, small problems that stood out to me as I looked at the game.
All in all, the Jackets were the better team for much of tonight, but they made a few mental mistakes that gave Toronto life early. The difference from some of the other "slump" games, though, is that they came back, took control, and asserted themselves at the right time to take the win.
In 2008-2009, the Jackets had a rough December, but came back with a strong January that catapulted them into the playoff race. The Jackets will have a challenge ahead of them - much of the team's January will be spent on the road - but if they can continue stringing wins together like this, that could be the springboard that once again puts them in the top 8 teams in the Western Conference.
The Jackets will fly back to Columbus this evening, and take on the Ottawa Senators at Nationwide Arena tomorrow night at 7pm for the last game of 2010. Hope to see you there!