It took the Blue Jackets 18 tries, but the finally won a road game in regulation - and by a commanding margin at that.
But for one factor, this would be moment of rejoicing among the team and their fans, but the fact that the Jackets may have lost James Wisniewski for weeks, perhaps even months, places a sobering undertone on a game that was otherwise exactly what fans hoped to see all season.
Despite some truly unique results from Scott Arniel's lineup card bingo (Jared Boll starting the game on the second line? Really?), the combination of Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, and Ryan Johansen remained steady from earlier in the week against Calgary. Unlike their first outing where the three players were still adjusting to each other, this time the three showed clear signs of "clicking". That connection would show early when Johansen won a board battle early in the first period, skated the puck around the back of Kari Lehtonen, and found a seam through the Dallas defense to fire a pass to Rick Nash for an easy tap-in.
The Stars would get a bit of luck a few minutes later when Steve Mason attempted to freeze the puck after a Nicklas Grossman point shot, but could not settle the biscuit under his glove. With the puck squirting free in front of the crease, Radek Dvorak would poke it away from Mason and set up Vernon Fiddler for an easy wrist shot to put his side back into the game.
The game would stay tied until early in the second period when John Moore skated a puck around the Dallas zone to find a good shooting lane on Lehtonen. The rookie d-man fired a shot that bounced off the Dallas goaltender's legs and caromed over to Antoine Vermette, who scooped up the up before elevating it for the eventual game winning goal.
Oops. Spoiler alert.
That tally also marked Moore's first NHL assist, making it a good night all around for the rookies.
Any pleasure the team felt over the goal was quickly evaporated a few minutes later when James Wisniewski attempted to block a shot that went off the inside of his ankle, dropping him to the ice in obvious pain. After some attention from the team's trainers he was finally able to make his way off the ice, but clearly could not put weight onto the injured leg, and the team would announce near the end of the period that the defenseman would not return that evening due to a lower body injury.
Meanwhile, there was still a game to be played, and the Dallas Stars seemed quite willing to give the Jackets opportunities to extend their lead during the second period on the power play. Brendan Morrow would take a tripping call and later exchange minors with Derek Dorsett, followed by Radek Dvorak high sticking both R.J. Umberger and Derek Dorsett to put his team down shorthanded in the final minutes before intermission. Unfortunately, the Jackets' power play strongly felt the absence of Wisniewski's puck moving abilities, and the teams would go into the third period with just a one goal margin - a situation the Jackets had seen lead to tragedy far too many times this season.
Making the decision to attack the Stars rather than collapse defensively, the efforts paid off when Rick Nash collected a long dump in shot along the boards from John Moore, cut in between several Dallas defenders and sent a quick shot at the net as Ryan Johansen set up a screen. The puck sailed into the net for Nash's second goal of the night, and John Moore's first multi-point NHL game thanks to his primary assist. (The secondary tally would go to Nikita Nikitin, marking his 13th point in 21 games as a Blue Jacket, 9 of them coming in December.)
Dallas would suffer the loss of Morrow due to a lower body injury, and the Jackets seemed content to run down the clock, working to clog up the blue lines and prevent the Stars from moving the puck easily. Everything seemed going to plan until the final six minutes of the game, when Jared Boll was given a somewhat questionable charging penalty to put Dallas on the man advantage, but the Jackets' PK was stellar, including some yeomanlike shifts from Derek Mackenzie and Derek Dorsett. The Stars would go back to the power play almost immediately after the successful kill when Vernon Fiddler earned an academy award for his portrayal of a hooking victim, but Steve Mason was superb, robbing Eric Nystrom twice before the Stars pulled Lehtonen for the extra attacker in hopes of a rally. Jeff Carter and Vinny Prospal chased the puck down and had a near miss on an attempt to seal the game, and the Stars would get one last attack, but Marc Methot would skate the puck out of his own zone and fire it back down the ice, just missing the open cage, and Fedor Tyutin would eventually collect the rebound and return it for his third goal of the season with just two seconds left to go.
Despite the cost, two points is two points, and the Jackets celebrated both their 10th win of the season and their first regulation victory on the road, leaving the bench as the horn sounded to congratulate Mason on his superb game.
Final Score: Jackets 4 - Stars 1
- Steve Mason - When he's been bad, he's been wretched, but Mason was excellent tonight, stopping 36 shots and getting a few lucky bounces off his posts when he needed them. Between this performance and last Tuesday against Calgary, Mason is starting to look like an NHL caliber netminder again.
- Rick Nash - An excellent performance for the top line tonight, and the Captain lead the way. My only regret is that he didn't get an opportunity to collect the hatty.
- John Moore - Tonight was his first NHL assist and first multi-point NHL game. Not a bad day's work for the kid.
- Penalty Kill - The PK came up huge late when it could have all too easily collapsed and given Dallas renewed vigor in the final minutes of regulation.
- Sixty Minute Effort - At last.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Injuries - Wiz's ankle is bad, bad news. Head Coach Scott Arniel confirmed that it is broken and will need to be evaluated tomorrow in Columbus. Even a relatively clean break is likely to need 2-3 months to heal. It may not end his season, but it could come awfully close.
- Power Play - As good as the Jackets were at 5 on 5, it would have been nice to seize a chance or two with the mad advantage.
- Jared Boll - Brief elevation to the 2nd line aside, Boll didn't seem to have a major impact in this game except for his penalties.
The Jackets will return home tonight and prepare to close a frustrating 2011 with their New Year's Eve matchup against the Capitals. Here's to champagne and cannonfire at Midnight.