If I told you that R.J. Umberger and Derick Brassard would both go to the locker room with injuries in the first five minutes of a game against LA, you could be forgiven for asking just how badly the Jackets lost, afterwards.
However, in this case, you'd be in for a pleasant surprise.
The bad news for the Blue Jackets started on the first shift of the game, when Derick Brassard was hit in the hand with a slap shot and left after his shift for the tunnel to the locker room. The team announced via Twitter a few minutes later that Brassard had suffered an injury and would not return.
Despite that, the Jackets kept the Kings off the scoreboard and worked to shuffle their lines, moving R.J. Umberger to the top line with Nash and Voracek, and Matt Calvert to the second like with Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius. Neither team was able to find an advantage until Grant Clitsome was whistled for a high stick late in the first period, and that's where the news got worse for the Jackets.
On the first shift of the penalty kill, Umberger collided with LA's Jarret Stoll, and left for the locker room after he made his way off the ice, clearly in pain. The Jackets killed off the penalty, but a few moments after it expired, Alec Martinez fired fired in a slap shot from the blue line that Mathieu Garon failed to control, the puck spinning into the air before Andrei Loktionov slapped the rebound to a waiting Justin Williams, who fired the puck into the open side of the net.
However, with Derek MacKenzie now taking the place of Umberger between Nash and Voracek, the Jackets responded almost immediately after, with Nash rushing in from the blue line, sending a fast, sharp pass to Derek MacKenzie at the left circle, who made a quick pass to Jake Voracek, undefended at the side of the LA net, and Voracek slammed it home to tie the game just before the end of the first period.
In the second period, the Jackets would kill off an early penalty to Chris Clark, but the Kings would take a 2-1 lead just past the 13 minute mark when Mathieu Garon failed to freeze a shot from Matt Greene off the rush, allowing the puck to bounce to the boards, where Greene caught his own rebound and flipped it back into the slot. Garon failed to realize the puck had slipped around him, still watching the boards, and Loktionov shot the puck past him and into the net.
Responding again, this time it would be Rick Nash who found a puck from Derek MacKenzie, as the grinding centerman dug the puck off the boards and sent a lazy pass into the open ice of the faceoff circle - Nash scooped up the puck and snapped a top-shelf wrister before Jonathan Quick could react.
The Jackets would receive a 5-on-3 power play late in the period, with Drew Doughty off for hooking and Trevor Lewis off for a trip, but the Jackets failed to convert despite good puck possession throughout the advantage, and it would once again be LA taking the lead in the third period, this time with Drew Doughty firing a long cannon from the blue line that Garon appeared to be partially screened on by Wayne Simmonds, as the goaltender failed to react to the shot before it went past him and into the net.
Sometimes, however, you get a boost when things look bleak, and for the Jackets, it was the return of R.J. Umberger - clearly in discomfort but unwilling to leave his teammates in distress. The Jackets clearly picked up a bit of an emotional lift, but were unable to find a tying goal until late in the period, with Garon off for the extra skater.
Rick Nash dug the puck out from the boards behind the LA net, fired it up to Jake Voracek at the point, and Jake unleashed a hard slapper that rebounded off of Quick's leg pads and over to Kris Russell, who slammed the puck home into the open side of the net for the tying goal.
With just under a minute to play, both teams attempted to close the deal in regulation, including an "ALMOST!" chance by Andrew Murray that hit the iron, and R. J. Umberger cementing his heroic status for the evening by flinging himself across the ice to block a Doughty slap shot in the dying seconds of the period.
In the overtime, neither team was able to find the edge, though Umberger nearly sealed the game with a diving shot that Quick was barely able to stop with his blocker in the final minute, and the teams went to a shootout.
Rick Nash attempted to drive in on Quick from an angle, but could not find the net on his shot. Michal Handzus drove in with a full head of steam, but Garon splayed out and was able to knock the puck wide of the net.
Matt Calvert went in and tried to make a stop-start maneuver, but Quick's poke check not only send the puck away, but took Calvert off of his skates, sending him sprawling. Jarret Stoll would go in and bury the puck through Garon's 5-hole, and Kristian Huselius attempted to deke in to keep the shootout going, but was stopped by another leg pad save from Quick, leaving the Kings with the victory.
Final Score: Kings 4 - Jackets 3 (SO)
All things considered, I'm incredibly proud of the team for manning up to get the game tied late, and while I would have liked the extra point, I'm OK with it. They got dealt a nasty hand and still came up with a good finish.
- R.J. Umberger - It isn't just that Umberger's return to the lineup was a huge boost (though it clearly was) - it was his clear determination to make an impact, and his constant work to keep sacrificing in hopes of delivering a win. During an interview earlier this year, Umberger was asked about playing hurt, and said "If I can stand up, I'll skate." That toughness was on display in spades tonight.
- Rick Nash - Though he was stopped in the shootout, Nash was on his game tonight, and it showed in his efforts both offensively and defensively.
- Kris Russell - Russ may have not saved the season with that goal, but he sure as hell kept the life support running.
- Derek MacKenzie - D-Mac stepped up big when called on. He wasn't perfect, but he got the puck where it needed to go on two big goals.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Mathieu Garon - Though he made a couple of nice stops in OT and the first stop in the shootout, all three of the goals Garon gave up were ugly, and he was fighting the puck all night. He never really seemed to settle down and get comfortable, particularly with traffic around the net.
- Jan Hejda - Hejda was right around the crease for LA's first two goals, and did not do a good job of helping to clear away the rebounds.
- Power Play - The Jackets only had one real chance with the man advantage, and it was a two man advantage at that, but could not get the job done.
All in all, the team still has games in hand on all of the teams they're chasing, but until we know what's going on with Brassard, it's going to be a bit of a pins and needles affair for the next few games. The Jackets will be back in action on Friday night in Chicago, and they need to pull off a win in regulation to help them keep gaining ground.