With a true four point game ahead of them, the Blue Jackets took on the Blackhawks without Derick Brassard, with Steve Mason starting despite battling Bronchitis, and with Marc Methot a late scratch, replaced by John Moore due to an "unspecified injury."
The reward, if they could seize it, was to draw even with the Blackhawks in the standings, and to keep themselves alive in the playoff hunt. With a franchise record road win streak on the line, they stepped into the Madhouse on Madison, and the fun began...
After a few early chances for each side, the Jackets withstood the Hawks in the first five minutes, giving Mason a chance to get into the game.
The first inkling that the Jackets were going to rise to the occasion came when Matt Calvert blocked a Duncan Keith shot from the point, caught it in his skates, kicked it up to his stick and for lack of a better term, TORE ASS up ice, blowing past Keith on the breakaway as Brent Seabrook attempted to muscle him away from the puck. Putting his shoulder up to block Seabrook's stick, Calvert dragged the puck from forehand to backhand, then slammed the puck past Corey Crawford's legs as he flew through the air, giving the Jackets a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the Hawks would respond almost immediately, with Patrick Sharp taking a turnover from between Grant Clitsome and Fedor Tyutin, breaking on alone on Mason and firing a shot that hit the post, bounced off Mason's leg, and in.
Then, a little over two minutes later, Sharp would strike again, a defensive breakdown by Kristian Huselius left Sharp alone in the slot, and Jonathan Toews fired a fast pass from behind the goal line to the open winger, who sniped Mason top shelf to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
Despite going down early, however, the Jackets never packed it in. Continuing to hustle, the Jackets drew several penalties, and kept attacking the net at the end of the first and early second periods, not allowing the Hawks to build any breathing room.
Then, just before the midway point of the second, with Viktor Stalberg off for interference, Grant Clitsome made a good pass to Rick Nash at the right boards, who fired on net, and Antoine Vermette grabbed the rebound and stuffed it home, tying the game at 2-2 on the power play.
This seemed to kick the Jackets into overdrive, and though the Hawks also found their chances, the Jackets would be the ones to continue their scoring, with Matt Calvert tearing across the ice and breaking into the Hawks' zone with R. J. Umberger trailing behind him, firing another shot that bounced around in the crease, and Derek MacKenzie tapping it into the net to restore a lead for the Jackets.
The Hawks very nearly took the momentum back, however, when a long shot from Brent Seabrook hit Steve Mason, flipped into the air, and landed behind the Jackets' netminder in the blue paint. Mason had no idea where the puck had landed, but Kris Russell saw it, got behind the net, poked the puck out of the crease and away from the goal line, and then carried it back into play.
Mason's body language as he saw the puck carried away was pure surprise and relief - I have a feeling someone is getting a steak dinner on Mason when they get home.
After the save of the game by Russell, Nick Leddy would go to the box for a hold, and the Jackets would put the power play unit to work again, and though Corey Crawford would stop Rick Nash on another shot, the second unit would come out, R. J. Umberger would win the faceoff and send it back to Anton Stralman, and wonder of wonders, Stralman not only collected the pass cleanly, but teed up and fired a one-timer almost in the same heartbeat, sending a laser beam back at the net and past Crawford, who had clearly read the book on Columbus' defense, as he obviously hadn't exepected Stralman to actually get his shot on net.
With a two goal lead, the Jackets perhaps spent a bit too much time congratulating themselves, as the Hawks would break out of their own zone on the ensuing possession, and Toews and Patrick Kane drove up ice for a two on one rush against Jan Hejda. Hejda attempted to take the pass away, but Toews was able to flip it past him to Kane, who scored off the rush to draw the game back to 4-3 to end the period.
Watching the game, you had to think that the Jackets needed an insurance goal (or two!) to prevent the Blackhawks from taking over, but in the third period they did two remarkable, miraculous things.
They played exceptional defense, and they out-muscled the Hawks at every turn.
Despite surrendering two more power plays, despite being outshot 7-10, despite Chicago pulling Crawford with two minutes to go and on the power play, forcing the Jackets to stop a 6-on-4 advantage, they refused to give up. They put their heels in, hit anything that looked like a white jersey, and kept taking the puck and moving it up the ice, even if they were unable to generate a scoring chance, just as long as it forced the Hawks to spend more time in their own zone instead of the Jackets'.
In the dying seconds, Steve Mason made point blank stops on Sharp, Toews, and Kane, and with a final exhalation from every Jackets' fan glued to their TV or radio, the game came to an end as the boys in Union Blue leaped over the benches to congratulate their netminder.
Final Score - Jackets 4 - Hawks 3.
- Matt Calvert - With a highlight reel goal, an assist, and several excellent defensive plays throughout the game, we're seeing Calvert blossom into top six NHL winger. He may not get into Calder discussions unless he goes on a scoring tear that would set new NHL records, but he's making a great case for being the franchise's ROY.
- Steve Mason - He was hung out to dry on a couple of goals, but he made up for it by stopping 37 of 40 shots, and preserving the lead late when the Hawks were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him.
- Anton Stralman - Though he had some mental lapses, we got a hell of a game out of Stralman, and I'm not sure what's more remarkable - that he played 20:35 tonight, or that only 19 seconds of it was on the power play.
- R.J. Umberger - Two assists, 10,000 blocked shots, and I think he cured the common cold by staring at it. He's Umby, Dammit.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Grant Clitsome - Not a great night, defensively, for the clitter. He did have an assist on the Vermette goal, but he was beaten ugly by Sharp in the first period, and again on the Kane / Toews two on one in the second.
- Kristian Huselius - Juice spent way too much time dangling and trying to make passes in the top of the zone instead of just shooting on net.
- Chicago Media - Patrick Sharp was the first star of the game? Really? Are you kidding me? Star of the first period, sure, but...
With a when that gives them a 6-2-1 record for February, and three games left until the trade deadline, the Jackets will get a few days off before facing their next test at home this Tuesday against Nashville. It'll be two red hot teams and a divisional matchup. I'd go grab tickets - this one is gonna be nasty.