With a game that meant little in the standings, the Blue Jackets and Panthers came into Nationwide Arena with one team looking to get off a major road skid, and the other just looking to stop a long bleed on home ice, where they had gone 6 games without a victory.
In the preview, I said it was likely to be a game that didn't mean much to the rest of the NHL, but was likely to be a lot of fun to watch.
They didn't disappoint me.
The Jackets came out swinging, including an early scoring chance from a Jan Hejda slapshot that just rang off the post, and a tic-tac-toe combination between R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, and Jakub Voracek that squeaked just wide.
The Panthers had their own chances, but Steve Mason looked sharp, challenging aggressively, doing a better job of controlling his rebounds, and generally looking like the goalie we love seeing, rather than the worst case scenario. (I actually had a seat for this game right behind the net in the lower bowl thanks to Seatgeek, and I was really surprised how often Mason got moving before the puck had even crossed into his zone to challenge, and how well he did at handling the puck. It's funny how much more you appreciate the game from up close, compared to TV, or even the upper bowl.)
Scott Clemmensen looked sharp as well, perhaps not moving as aggressively as his younger counterpart, but doing a great job of filling the net and getting a fast glove on the puck. However, it wouldn't stop him from giving up the first goal of the game, a beautiful wrister from Scottie Upshall as he took an excellent pass that threaded between the panthers' D and forwards from Derek Dorsett, then fired a bullet that slid in just above Clemmensen's glove side shoulder and into the net.
The Panthers would get an opportunity to tie it up on the power play a few minutes later, but the PK was working overtime, and nearly grabbed a shorthanded tally when Jan Hejda sprung Rick Nash towards the end of the kill, streaking up ice and cutting in on the net, but just missing wide with his shot after smashing through the Panther defense.
The Jackets would draw a 5 on 3 advantage to end the period with both Michal Repik and Stephen Weiss in the box, and generated some chances in the initial penalty, but seemed lost when they reduced Florida's defense, actually losing momentum, and were unable to convert with the two man advantage or the remaining minute of power play time to start the second period.
Florida, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do on the power play when Marc Methot was sent off for a slash early in the middle frame. Attacking the net without finesse, but great work effort, Sergei Samsonov sent a shot from the far boards in that bounced off Steve Mason's shoulder and rebounded into the crease, where David Booth was able to jump on it and put it home into the open side of the net before the goaltender could adjust.
The Panthers came out energized by the goal, but the Jackets did a good job of responding in kind, particularly after Scott Arniel shuffled his lines again to shift Jakub Voracek back up to the top line, and moved Matt Calvert down to rejoin Umberger and Vermette.
(Calvert would also see some time on the checking line, as well, when Scottie Upshall went to the locker room to deal with an equipment issue, while Florida would lose Marty Reasoner for the game after he was injured blocking a shot.)
The shuffle paid off with just over a minute left in the second period when Calvert recovered a rebound, fired it in at the net, and R.J. Umberger took the short rebound and backhanded it across the crease to Antoine Vermette, who was able to tuck it into the open side of the net and give the Jackets a 2-1 advantage going to the third period.
Unfortunately, in the third, the Jackets again showed evidence of tired legs (and tired minds), letting the Panthers to come back and take control of the period, culminating in the tying goal from Evgeny Dadonov when he was able to drive to the net and take the wraparound past Craig Rivet and Kris Russell, and Steve Mason was unable to get over and seal his leg to the post.
The Jackets looked to get a late chance at redemption, however, when Mike Weaver put the puck over the glass in his own zone, giving the Jackets a power play with just under a minute in regulation, but they couldn't find the co-ordinated effort with the man advantage through regulation and overtime, and despite outshooting Florida in the overtime frame, the teams would head to a shootout - Florida's third in their last 6 games. (The Panthers also set an NHL record by taking the game to OT, guaranteeing that they'd appear in their 48th 1 goal game this season. Say what you like about the Panthers, but they do keep their games close...)
First up for the Jackets was Rick Nash, who went wide and then cut in to the net in what I would call his signature move, but he was unable to elevate his backhander in time, and it went wide.
Stephen Weiss attempted a much more direct attack, charging in with no subtlety whatosever, but Mason sealed his leg pads and pushed the shot wide.
For the second shooter, Scott Arniel called an audible, opening up his roster and selecting Maksim Mayorov to go next. Taking notes from the earlier attempts, Mayorov came in and went high glove on Clemmensen, beating him cleanly with a wrist shot that tucked in off the crossbar.
Mike Santorelli would shoot next for the Panthers and Mason would poke check his shot wide, so Matt Calvert would have a chance to wrap the game up as the third shooter. The rookie winger went in attempting a similar "stuff" move to Weiss' attack, but Clemmensen took the 5 hole away and denied the attempt, leaving it to Steve Mason to stop Sergei Samsonov.
Mason came out, challenging Samsonov, and forcing him to shoot high, which rang off the iron and bounced high above the crease before Mason snapped it out of the air with a flourish of his glove, and the team leaped off the boards to congratulate him as they knocked the home ice and shootout loss monkeys off their back.
Final Score: Jackets 3 - Panthers 2 (SO)
- Scottie Upshall - Despite having to miss time for repairs, Upshall was a consistent threat all night, and was a solid PKer when called upon. His goal last night also helped him set a career high in both goals scored (21) and points (33).
- Jan Hejda - He didn't find his way onto the score sheet, but Hejda was impressive at how well he worked defensively, not just in blocking shots but his positional play. He's still not the fastest guy on the ice, but it seemed like he really "got it" in this game, and handled everything the Panthers tried around him with aplomb.
- Steve Mason - Yes, I'm sure he'd like that Dadonov goal back, but Mase had one of his best games since February, at least, and really seemed much more confident and aggressive in net than he has of late. A great change to see.
- Maksim Mayorov - So do we call him the "Maksim Gun" if he can keep up that performance in the shootout?
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Power Play - 0 for 37 now. 'nuff said.
- Craig Rivet - In addition to having trouble with the "shoot the puck!" concept when he went out on the power play, Rivet really got outworked on the Dadonov goal. Kris Russell needed to help cover the side of the net as well, but Rivet had the primary fail for allowing him to skate through totally unmolested.
- NHL marketing - Remember when we gave away a Blue Jackets branded FlipCam, including that great marketing pitch that suggested the Flip was perfect for capturing moments at a game? Well, yes, it is, but it turns out that you're actually not allowed to record your own video during a hockey game - it's a violation of TV rights agreements, so if you pull out a video camera, you'll be told you have to put it away or be removed. Oops.
With the win, the Jackets leapt from 13th to 11th, then slid back to 12th when Minnesota won and collected an extra point.
As goals go, hoping the team finishes in 11th isn't really a lofty one, but I'd at least like to see them make it to that point, improving their lot at least a little bit in the standings rather than the total collapse the team seemed to be teetering towards.
The Jackets will leave for their second to last road trip this season- a brief hop out to DC to take on the Capitals - and will be back in action Thursday night from Washington before returning to take on the Blackhawks Friday.