Let's just take a moment to enjoy Tom Sestito's crazy eyes in that picture. That is the face of a man who is 100% dedicated to punching someone in the head, and taking maximum pleasure from the effort. Gotta love the focus there.
Anyhow, yes, that title does not deceive you. For the first time since November 16th, 2009, the Blue Jackets won a game in the shootout! Despite a lineup that I'd describe as over 50% likely to be sent down to the AHL tomorrow, and facing a team that Hockey Wilderness admitted was basically the Wild's "A Team", the Jackets didn't just pull out the win, they managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit, something else they seemed to forget how to do last year.
What's that strange tingling I feel? That warm buzz at the back of my brain? The slight feeling of lightness around my shoulders?
Oh, that's right. It's hope.
To be fair, the Jackets were dealt an advantage (and the Wild a poor beat) when Marek Zidlicky was injured on a play early in the first period. That didn't seem to stop the Wild, though, who had a lot of early pressure on the Jackets, including the first three powerplays of the game, but the Jackets hung in there (with a few nice stops from Mathieu Garon) and kept it a 0-0 tie at the end of the first period.
That wouldn't last long, though, as Minnesota's Matt Cullen broke off the boards in the Jackets' zone after a turnover, burned his way to the top of the slot, and fired a wrister that beat Garon stick side.
Things seemed to even out, and the Jackets would get some more pressure by midway through the period. At the 12 minute TV timeout, the team would swap in David LeNeveu for Garon, and unfortunately he would give up a second goal when the Wild collapsed around the goal crease, eventually letting Eric Nystrom tap the puck in after a feed across the crease by Mikku Koivu.
Late in the period, though, the Jackets seemed to find their feet. They began to attack using the Arniel system, with guys like Moore, Commodore, and Goloubef pushing them up ice. Pucks started to move, and finally the team drew their first powerplay with a little over a minute remaining in the period.
They'd need about 30 seconds for Anton Stralman to set up a feed to a wide open Nikita Filatov at the bottom of the left circle, and he blasted it past Backstrom almost as soon as the puck hit his stick blade.
Taking the lift from finally getting on the boards, the Jackets turned up the pressure in the third even as the Wild seemed to start getting heavy legs, and finally at just past the midway point of the game, Nick Holden was able to take a feed from Vermette and Stralman, firing from just inside the zone and beating Backstrom glove side. At first it looked like Tomas Kubalik might have gotten the redirect, but on review this goal was all Holden.
The Jackets continued to attack, earning another power play chance, but the game would need to go to extra time all tied up at two.
OT belonged to the Blue Jackets, even if they couldn't convert. They were constantly in the Wild zone, and several times they had Backstrom beat on 2-on-1 rushes or a backdoor wraparound attempt, but couldn't connect or whiffed on the shot.
Going to the shootout, it seemed like the ice had tilted firmly in favor of the Jackets, but Mikku Koivu deflated a bit of the balloon by scoring five hole on LeNeveu on his opening shootout attempt.
However, Filatov would answer back with his opening attempt, scoring over Backstrom's shoulder, then LeNeveu would stop Matt Cullen on his attempt, giving the Jackets a chance to pull ahead.
Kristian Huselius skated in and delivered the mail, whipping in and beating Backstrom five hole for the 2-1 lead.
With bated breath, the Wild sent out Antti Miettinen, and LeNeveu made a nice kick save with the right leg, sealing the deal.
Anton Stralman - Setting up both regulation goals, playing 26(!) minutes tonight, working the PK, and ending the night +1, this might have been his best game of the pre-season. Heck, it was better than quite a few of last year's regular season!
Nick Holden - You wouldn't know this was his first pre-season game this year by watching him. Holden not only delivered the tying goal, he was also a big part of the PK tonight, and logged an impressive 20 minutes of icetime.
Nikita Filatov - His powerplay goal was a thing of beauty, and his marker in the shootout was a great "Blink and you miss it" move. He also did a good job of getting back on the puck and creating chances tonight. I think Nikki is showing that he's ready to play his part in the NHL.
Fox Sports Ohio: A special mention to Fox Sports and the NHL for streaming tonight's game on line, even if there were a few hiccups. Great to see this happen and I hope that the reports we mentioned yesterday that the NHL may start offering in-market video streaming are true. If this was a preview, I'd say it should work great once they iron a few bugs out.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
Ben Guite - Guite had a couple of nice blocked shots, but nothing to make him stand out. As one of the guys competing for that 4th line center spot, he really needed to have a big game before tomorrow's roster cuts, and he just didn't.
Mike Blunden - Same sort of deal. His skating was choppy and slow, and he was one of the guys constantly chasing the Wild instead of attacking - and he was stapled to the bench for a lot of this game, given that he only saw about 11 minutes tonight in a 65 minute game.
Rusty Klesla - Despite his claims that he's 100% healthy, I think something's still not kosher with the OGCBJ. Rusty really seemed like he had trouble keeping his feet moving tonight, and I think he was probably our worst defender on the ice. John Moore ended up with a -2, but he wasn't really responsible for either goal, while Klesla gave up several odd man situations for the Wild that Garon and LeNeveu were fortunately able to stop. He also had the least ice time of the defensemen with NHL experience in the lineup for Columbus tonight.
I could also point out that our top line of Kubalik, Vermette, and Juice really seemed to disappear in that second period, or how Chris Clark didn't really show me anything today. I'm also failing to mention a lot about Ethan Moreau being surprisingly dangerous short-handed, nearly scoring on two breakaways against Backstrom, Mike Commodore joining several rushes and even crashing the net on one play, or how Kyle Wilson continued to drive up the ice like a well tuned machine.
The big thing, though, is the way the team came back. Last year, they hardly ever seemed to find the way to come back in games after going down early. This team not only came back, but powered through to win. That's incredibly pleasing to see after so many disappointing losses last year where it seemed the team just stopped trying after going down a goal or two. For the most part, these guys didn't stop skating - particularly the kids. If anything, they seemed to start competing harder as a result.
They played like winners, so they won. It might just be that simple.
The Jackets plan to make somewhere between ten and thirteen roster cuts tomorrow, then work with the new core group before flying to Minnesota to take on the Wild Thursday night at the Excel Energy Center.