In ancient Rome, the festival of Lupercalia was typically celebrated between the 13th and 15th of February. As part of the festival, a group of Luperci, or "wolf brothers" would oversee the sacrifice of goats, a feast served, and whips made from the goat leather would be used to strike women to encourage fertility.
Rome was a weird place, but the Jackets did a pretty good job of sacrificing a few of their personal goats last night.
Despite the distractions around the team of the Rick Nash trade speculation, the Jackets were able to celebrate the return of Mark Letestu, who took Ryan Johansen's place in the lineup. Meanwhile, Steve Mason was given the starting job, after head coach Todd Richards told the media that Curtis Sanford's back issues are "likely to keep him off the ice for a while".
Facing the Jackets were some old familiar faces - Ken Hitchcock and a Blues team that has rocketed to within six points of the Red Wings for the top spot in the central, and with games in hand at that. After Jaroslav Halak shut out the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, he was given the net, and many expected him to try for a league leading 7th shutout performance.
What they forgot was that even when the standings don't matter, these teams hate each other.
The fireworks started early for the crowd at Nationwide Arena, as the Blues received an early power play thanks to a bad hook by Derek Dorsett.
With Steve Mason beaten cleanly by a Chris Stewart shot, James Wisniewski would stand on the goal line and make a save with his stick, keeping the puck from crossing the line and sending it rocketing back up the ice. The play would require review from the war room, but it was judged that the puck did not completely cross the line, and the Jackets would continue on.
Dorsett's road to redemption for the penalty began when he and B.J. Crombeen engaged in a tilt that brought fans to their feet, but the Jackets would not find themselves into smooth sailing. Despite a late power play when Barret Jackman was called for tripping, a bad turnover by Jeff Carter would spring David Perron and David Backes on a shorthanded 2 on 1. Derick Brassard attempted to take away the pass while Carter came back to help, but Backes would beat Mason to give the visitors an early lead. Amazingly, this was only the sixth shorthanded goal allowed by the Jackets this season, but it reinforced the often frustrating nature of the team's power play.
Fortunately, there was still time left on the clock.
With the period and the penalty winding down, Jeff Carter won a key offensive zone faceoff, kicking the puck to Mark Letestu, who immediately served up The Wiz. A booming slapshoot found its' way past the Blues' PK and Halak at the last possible second before the period came to an end, and once again the War Room would be consulted. In a bit of karmic clock payback, the puck was found to have crossed the goal line (completely!) with 0.2 seconds left in regulation, and the game was tied.
(Believe it or not, that goal also improved the Jackets' PP to 17.6% on the year, tying them for 15th.)
Dorsett and Backes would engage in another scrum midway through the second, and the Jackets would ride the energy, dominating the possession and forcing Halak to make a bushel of saves, including another Columbus power play when the puck was cleared over the glass, but the team could not find an edge on the Slovakian goalie before the period came to an end.
Cue the hero music for #15.
With the game still tied in the third period, the third line of Vermette, Pahlsson, and Dorsett would push their way through a St. Louis line change to get an open look at Halak. After a Samuel Pahlsson shot left a rebound in the open crease, Dorsett swooped in and shoveled it home for the 2-1 lead, his career best 10th goal of the season.
The Jackets tried to defend and extend the lead, but St. Louis put a great deal of their own pressure on Mason, who responded well, keeping the puck away from trouble as much as possible, though his rebound control is still a thing of wild unpredictability.
An ugly note came to the game with just under four minutes to go when T.J. Oshie delivered a high hit to Aaron Johnson, driving his elbow into Johnson's head. Oshie was given a minor for roughing, but don't be surprised if he receives a review from the department of player safety, too.
Things seemed to be in good shape for the Jackets before a goal mouth scrum with just 1.8 seconds left found the puck pop past Steve Mason. It appeared the team might be heading for another OT matchup vs. their Central Division opponent, but another video review changed the boos to cheers when Toronto determined that David Perron had batted the puck into the net with his glove, and the team was able to win the ensuing faceoff and hang on as regulation wound down.
Final Score: Jackets 2 - Blues 1
- Derek Dorsett - Though his two fights and a hooking minor were responsible for all of Columbus' infractions, he redeemed himself thoroughly on the night, and believe it or not, he is now 11th in team scoring and tied for third in goals. Amid all the frustrations and distractions, Dorsett is stepping up for this club.
- James Wisniewski - Another player stepping to the fore in on and off ice leadership, Wiz did a little of everything for the club tonight, including that game-changing stint as the backup goalie. If Sanford's back keeps giving him trouble, can Wiz try butterfly style?
- Steve Mason - 32 saves on 33 shots is excellent work no matter how you slice it, and how appropriate that it ties the franchise's all time wins record for goaltenders. Mason needs one more win to take the record over from Marc Denis.
- Physicality - Lead by Rick Nash, who seemed to be pounding anything in white last night he could line up, the Jackets went toe to toe with the Blues on their turf and proved they can play smash mouth hockey just as well as anyone.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Turnovers - Jeff Carter's PP turnover for the Backes goal was the only one that directly impacted the game, but the Jackets played with fire. Several passes were of the "to whom it may concern" variety, and that could have easily come back to haunt them.
Really, though, that's about it. This team played well as a unit tonight, and really did put in a complete effort. If Todd Richards can keep the club competing like this for the remaining 26 games, he's certainly earned an interview for the full time job. The Jackets will rest up, recoup, practice, and get ready for Saturday, where they'll be taking on the Blackhawks for an afternoon tilt as part of the Hockey Day In America festivities.