Game 8 (X): Winning Without Their Best

There's always something to be said in baseball when a pitcher is able to grind out a win without his best stuff on the mound. In football, it's called "winning ugly". On Friday night in Raleigh, whatever the hockey equivalent might be called, the Blue Jackets managed to do it.

Without Rick Nash in the lineup, on the second night of a home/away back-to-back, and with several rookies and AHL players in the lineup, the Jackets got a solid effort from Steve Mason and overcame several trips to the penalty box to sneak out of Carolina with a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes.

Columbus looked tired at times, and Scott Arniel did some line shuffling before this game as well. It all added up to a lineup that looked a bit uncomfortable with each other, and there were stretches of sloppy play. But in the end, it was two third period tallies that rallied the Jackets from down 2-1 to take this game and end their pre-season with a 5-2-1 mark.

The first period got off to a slow start. Columbus looked to have decent legs, which was good to see considering most of the boys had played last night. Neither team could get much going, but that was do almost as much from the goalies as anything else. Both Cam Ward and Steve Mason were very solid tonight.

The Jackets would, however, begin a trend in the first period that would dog them most of the night. About five minutes in, Kris Russell would get tangled up with Jeff Skinner, and before anyone really knew what was happening the two diminutive players had dropped the gloves. What can only really be described as a grapple ended with both players in the box for five, with Russell getting an extra two for interference. It was the first of six Hurricanes Power Plays.

The Jackets would get the kill, and the teams would trade blows throughout the period. Toward the end of the period the Canes cranked up the speed a bit, and the Jackets finished the frame chasing the puck. At the end of one, however, it was still scoreless. Carolina outshot the Jackets 12 to 11 in the frame. Both goalies were solid.

The second period began with the Jackets throwing the first punch, but Cam Ward was again up to the task. John Moore came in on a pinch, and got off a sneaky shot that seemed to slightly surprise Ward. After that, it was some sloppy defense that would finally cost Columbus. The puck worked back into the Jackets' end, and Grant Clitsome and Jussi Jokinen were both going for it. Jokinen got there first, and Clitsome was guilty of a trip to send Carolina back on the Power Play.

It would get worse.

Just 30 seconds in, Derek Dorsett would go off for interference, giving Carolina 90 seconds of 5-on-3. The Jackets were strong, and technically killed off the Clitsome penalty. But, they simply couldn't clear the puck. Despite Mason looking solid, moving side to side with confidence and skill, just as Clitsome's penalty expired the Canes were able to move it cross ice from Joni Pitkanen to Jussi Jokinen, who was able to finally get one past Mason. To the goaltender's credit, there wasn't much he could do; he was moving side to side constantly, and the Jackets couldn't get the puck out of the zone. If there was one silver lining, it was that it negated the rest of the Dorsett penalty and the teams went back to even strength.

The Jackets would finally ratchet up their pressure, with the top line of R.J. Umberger, Jeff Carter, and Cam Atkinson getting the puck deep and cycling it for a good 50 or 60 seconds, generating some solid looks at the net. But, they couldn't get one past Ward. Ryan Johansen also had a good look, but as the puck went to the side of an open cage Ward was able to get a poke check on it. Finally, however, the Jackets would get on the board.

At the 11:36 mark of the second, Grant Clitsome launched a hard shot from the right point, and Ward kicked a rebound left. Unfortunately for him, Alexandre Giroux was skating in unchecked, and directed the rebound into the open net. The goal energized the Jackets, and they carried the play for much of the rest of the period. Derick Brassard and Martin St. Pierre executed a nice 2-on-1, but Ward was again tall in net.

Jared Boll would finish a hard check on Bryan Allen, and the two would drop the gloves. Allen got the early shots in, but Boller looked to deliver a late blow that put Allen to the ground. The bad news was that Boll left the game with a hand injury. It was later reported by The Dispatch that Boll has a broken thumb on his right hand.

Mason would again prove large, as he stopped a point-blank shot by Skinner. And then the Jackets would start the parade back to the penalty box. Tomas Kubalik went off at 14:09 for interference, and Clitsome at 19:01 for a questionable trip. But, Columbus would again stand tall on the PK, led by Maksim Mayorov and Cam Atkinson. At the end of two, it was still tied, with both teams registering 11 shots in the period.

The third period was the difference. Carolina would grab the lead early in the third, but it was Columbus that finished. The Hurricanes pulled ahead 2-1 on a Patrick Dwyer goal in which he got the puck right in Steve Mason's kitchen on the left doorstep. Mason stopped the first point-blank attempt, but Dwyer got his own rebound and beat the netminder. Mason didn't have a lot of support, as Dwyer was all alone right in front.

The Jackets of years past might have packed it in, but these Jackets rose above. Despite not having one of their big guns, and despite having played fairly sloppy hockey in stretches, they dug deep and found a way to steal the win. And it all started with some solid forechecking by Cam Atkinson. In an instance of Cam-on-Cam crime, his forecheck forced a misplay in the trapezoid from Cam Ward, and Atkinson turned, fired a laser pass to R.J. Umberger camped in front of the crease, and Umby buried the one-time to tie the game at 7:49 of the period. I cannot overstate how slick a play Atkinson made on this goal. 

The Jackets weren't done. Not four minutes later, it was another rookie who make a nice heads-up play to give the Jackets the lead. The puck was on the left boards, heading out of the Canes' zone. The Canes players all started up ice, expecting the zone to be cleared. But, David Savard had other ideas. He reached up, gloved the puck down to his stick, kept it in the zone, and turned and fired a shot on goal. The Canes were flat-footed, and Martin St. Pierre was unmarked. Ward stopped Savard's shot, but the rebound came right to St. Pierre who easily skated by and beat Ward into the open net. 3-2 Jackets, 8:25 to go in the game.

You could almost feel like the game was over when Steve Mason made the save of the hockey game, in my opinion. The Jackets turned the puck over, and the Canes basically had a 3-on-2. The puck found its way to Jeff Skinner, who was all alone in the high slot to the left. Mason barely got set, but still managed to flat-out STONE Skinner. That was really the last, best chance the Canes would have.

Final Score: Blue Jackets 3, Hurricanes 2

Standard Bearers:

  • Steve Mason - What else can be said about Mase this pre-season? I know it may not mean much, considering it's exhibition. But, Mason has clearly looked better in goal. He hasn't let getting scored on rattle him. His movements look more confident while also looking more efficient. Tonight, he was hung out to dry once in a 5-on-3, and the second time when Dwyer was alone on the door step. And Mase still stopped Dwyer's first attempt. Overall, he stopped 35 of 37 shots. In short, he's looked night-and-day different/better so far in this new campaign. Let's hope it continues into the games that count.
  • Maksim Mayorov - I know I've been leading his cheering section most of the pre-season, but as I said in the game thread the one word I'd use to describe his effort this pre-season would be "relentless." He was big tonight on the PK, which is a situation the Jackets found themselves in A LOT. He almost created a short-handed goal all by himself in the first period, and his speed and willingness to play at both ends were on display all night. Were it up to me, he'd have punched his ticket onto the club.
  • Cam Atkinson - His pass to Umberger to set up the game-tying goal in the third period was nothing short of spectacular. He forechecked aggressively all night, and was rewarded when Cam Ward misplayed the puck. His feed to Umberger crossed the crease and beat three Canes' defenders to set up RJ all alone on the doorstep. Cam was also big on the PK tonight as well, teaming up with Mayorov to come up big down a skater.
  • David Savard - I give him kudos for his play to set up the game-winner. It was heady, and the Canes clearly weren't expecting it. The 20-year-old has more than held his own being pressed into higher-minute service with Wisniewski out, and his booming right-handed shot brings something to the table. Again, if it were up to me, he made the club tonight, at least for those first eight games. If not longer.

Bottom of the Barrel:

  • Kris Russell - Seriously? Fighting Jeff Skinner? That, on top of Russell's turnovers--one of which almost ended up in a Skinner goal--made this another in a long line of shaky (ha! get it?) pre-season performances. If I was making out my post-Wisniewski-returning pairs right now, Russell wouldn't be in any of them.
  • Penalties - Some of the calls were a bit questionable, but even still; the Jackets were down a man six times in this game, and the 5-on-3 resulted in a goal. Overall, the Canes only went 1-for-6, but you can't keep taking this many penalties once the games start counting for real.
  • Tripp Tracy - The dreadful color man for the Canes' TV broadcast team, you can almost feel John Forslund struggling to save himself from the quicksand that must be doing games with this game. Positively awful. And Forslund is such a gem. Having to listen to Tripp Tracy was by far my least favorite thing tonight.

The Jackets are now done for the pre-season. They have a week off, and will head to Miami University early next week for team-building and practice. Pre-season means what it means; not a ton. But, to see the Jackets take five of eight and earn 11 "points" in eight games, is not a bad result. And, to come back tonight and get a win when they very easily could have packed it in told me something about many of the players on this team.

At the end, I think Maksim Mayorov, Cam Atkinson, and David Savard showed enough to make the club. Only time will tell how the final roster shakes out, but they certainly made solid cases for themselves.

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