Game 52 Recap: Heart & Soul

COLUMBUS OH - FEBRUARY 05: RJ Umberger #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates his third period goal with teammates while playing the Edmonton Oilers at Nationwide Arena on February 5 2011 in Columbus Ohio. Columbus won the game 4-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Heart & Soul, I fell in love with you.
Heart & Soul, the way a fool would do,
Madly...

The 1938 classic that almost every piano player knows is talking about a romance, but it also describes the experience of being a Jackets' fan remarkably well...

But some nights, that love is rewarded by the way the team shines through the struggles, the frustrations, and the pain, delivering a win that makes you jump to your feet, cheering and yelling...particularly on nights where the heart and soul of the team itself is pushing them to a win.

Though both teams were clearly a bit fatigued in the second night of back to back games, it seemed to be the Oilers who had the edge, with the Jackets unable to connect on good passes and muffing several early odd man rushes, not even managing a shot on Nikolai Khabibulin in the first few minutes of play.

The Oilers would push to an early lead when Linus Omark took the puck down almost to bottom left corner of the Jackets' defensive zone before threading a pass through the goal crease that Kris Russell failed to clear before Magnus Paajarvi could tap it into the open side of the net. 

Adding insult to injury, Dustin Penner would extend the Oilers' lead to 2-0 with a long slapper from the top of the slot that slipped past Mason, who was quite heavily screened by both Shawn Horcoff and his own defense. 

The Jackets would go unsatisfied on a power play opportunity a short time after the Penner goal, then would be forced to kill off a pair of penalties to Derek Dorsett and Jakub Voracek, taking energy from the PK and driving up the zone as the Voracek penalty expired, with R.J. Umberger driving from his own zone, through the neutral zone, and slashing across the slot before firing a shot from the left faceoff dot that bounced across the ice and slammed into the net past Nikolai Khabibulin's leg pad to cut the lead to 2-1.

The Jackets would take the energy and ramp up the attack on the Oilers to end the first period, and continued to crash the net in the second, though that energy would open them up to danger when Rick Nash took a penalty for goaltender interference for colliding with Khabibulin, despite the fact that the Edmonton goaltender had been outside of his crease.

When Derick Brassard argued the call with Fredrick L'Ecuyer, both forwards found themselves in the penalty box, and Edmonton with a full two minutes of 5-on-3 advantage. 

While Scott Arniel bought his PK some time to prepare by calling both L'Ecuyer and Don Van Massenhoven over to the Jackets' bench for a Frank Exchange Of Views (none of which would be rated for the consumption of minors), the Jackets would bear down and stop a flurry of shots, including a huge save by Steve Mason on Horcoff. The Jackets would rattle the Oilers' cage, but the 'Bulin Wall had an answer for every attempt until just over five minutes left in the period when Grant Clitsome made an exceptional stretch pass to spring Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger on a break into the Edmonton zone.

Juice took one shot that rattled around to the back of the net, Umberger would scoop it up, duck around the boards, then threw a pass back to Huselius, left alone in the slot, who one-timed the pass through Khabibulin's 5-hole to tie the game.

Neither team would be able to take the lead before the end of the frame, and we would be tied at 2 to end the second period.

In the third, despite heavy early pressure (the Jackets, in fact, would end up outshooting Edmonton 15-8 in the final frame), the Oilers would get the early edge when the defense failed to learn their lesson from the first period, keying on Linus Omark as he skated behind the net and around the boards, and failing to defend a cross-ice pass. Omark saw the opportunity and threaded the needle through two fowards and both defensemen, allowing Paajarvi to deliver another tip-in for a 3-2 lead.

However, it seemed almost a question of when, not IF, the Jackets would tie up the game - all four line continued to attack the net, and it took some excellent saves by Khabibulin to protect the lead until just over 6 minutes to go in the game, when Umberger would step up again, taking a good feed from Kris Russell off the blue line, side-stepping around Linus Omark while tapping the puck through his skates, recovering the puck, and slamming it home from the left faceoff dot again. (Actually, as I write this recap...I think that three of the four goals scored by the Jackets tonight came from the left faceoff dot.)

Though a lot of Jackets' fans would have been content with a 3-3 tie heading to OT (assuming the boys brought home a win), but the team still had one more trick up their sleeve.

Kris Russell would take the puck from the back of his own zone with a pass up to Umberger at the red line, and Umberger would chip the puck to Huselius past the Edmonton D, popping Juice and Vermette on another odd man rush, and this time Huselius would keep the puck, fake the pass when Ladislav Smid went down to block the lane, then fire another shot past Khabibulin from the top of the faceoff dot, beating him stick side. 

Down a goal, the Oilers would attempt to reply, pulling Khabibulin with a little over a minute and a half left in the game, but Steve Mason continued to deny their chances, while the Jackets were unable to put a final nail in the coffin...perhaps due to several players looking for chances to pass off to Umberger and / or Huselius rather than simply driving down on the empty net. 

Regardless, once the final seconds ticked off, it would be a joyful sellout crowd, on their feet and cheering as the Jackets skated down the ice to celebrate with Steve Mason.

Final Score: Jackets 4 - Oilers 3 

Standard Bearers:

  • R.J. Umberger - His second four point game as a Jacket (2G, 2A), Umby was dangerous all night long, and probably deserved the hat trick, but it's clear from the joy in his celebration after the Huselius goal that he'd happily take the two points. The heart & soul of the club once again came through in a big way, with big goals at crucial times.
  • Kristian Huselius - Perhaps Scott Arniel needs to scratch Juice more often. After sitting out last night's game against the Red Wings, Huselius started slow, but ended up getting back on track with his pair of goals. Despite his sometimes frustrating play, if he can keep the mutli-goal games coming, all will quickly be forgiven!
  • Steve Mason - Despite getting beaten on a couple of goals he'd probably like to have back (particularly the Penner shot, where he really had no chance to make the save), Mason deserves the credit - he kept the Jackets in the game, and was a big part of both 5 on 3 kills. 

Bottom Of The Barrel:

  • Fatigue - The Jackets really seemed to start the game worn down, and didn't seem to improve as things went on. A lot of sloppy passes and rough plays.
  • Rick Nash - Nash just wasn't able to make the puck work with him tonight - several odd man chances went astray, shots went wide or high, and he made some bad defensive mistakes, particularly on Omark's second goal.
  • Matt Calvert - I don't think Calvert had a bad game, per se, but he clearly seemed to be struggling on the second line tonight, and was moved back down to the fourth line fairly early on. He seemed to disappear a bit tonight after having such a great game in Detroit, but he's a young guy, and these things do happen. 
  • Power Play - 0 for 3 against the worst PK in the league. Ouch.

John Moore also made his regular season NHL debut, and though he had some shaky moments, I also felt like he had some very good moments, particularly a kick-save to get the puck away from Taylor Hall late in the third after losing his stick. His 12 minutes of ice time was the lowest of all D-men, but not surprisingly he was kept off the PK unit, and that was a major minute sink for the defense tonight, particularly in the second period.

The Jackets were given tomorrow off, and will practice on Monday before heading out to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins.

Two wins in a row have moved the Jackets back within four points of 8th place Minnesota. If the team can keep finding ways to win, well, who knows what might happen?

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