Game 74 Recap: Hats Off to (Roy) Harper (and/or RJ Umberger)

I been mistreated babe I believe I'll shake 'em on down / Well I've been mistreated babe I believe I'll shake 'em on down.
"Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" by Led Zeppelin

The Hurricanes came in streaking, winners of four straight and still with an outside shot at a playoff spot, albeit a slim one. Much like last year, these two clubs met late in the season with much more on the line for Carolina than for Columbus.

The Canes had won four straight, and were riding a 30 points in 22 games string. But it was the Jackets that would come out strong and push the play on the scoreboard, culminating with a milestone for one Jacket and a shower of headgear for another. The Jackets shuffled their lineup in the top six, and though Todd Richards said he is reluctant to change, it was hard to argue with the results.

R.J. Umberger been mistreated, babe, by his game this season. But tonight, he shook 'em on down.

Read on for the awesomeness.

1st Period

Both teams came out with some wheels early, and the action was end to end. The Canes got the best of it early on the shot clock, but the Jackets were the ones to score first. Carolina was buzzing early, with chances coming around the 3:20 mark off the stick of Eric Staal, which provided a juicy rebound. Brett Lebda would turn the puck over in the Jackets' zone at the 5:00 mark, and the Canes had a solid possession followed by no less than three chances with the puck sitting in the crease before Derek Dorsett could get the clear.

Then it was the Jackets who would get on the board first. Jack Johnson pinched in with the puck, and left a slick drop-pass to Vinny Prospal on the left circle. Prospal let one go, and it seemed to trick Cam Ward just a bit. The puck hit him in the body and trickled through to put the Jackets on the board.

1-0 Jackets: Vinny Prospal (13th) at 6:50 from Jack Johnson and David Savard - EV

Around the 9:30 mark, it was especially bad, as the Canes kept the puck in the zone and passed it around like they were on the Power Play. And then, the Jackets would actually put them on the PP, as Mark Letestu would go off for a trip at 10:21. But, the Columbus PK was lively for a change, forechecking and playing aggressively in the neutral zone. They got some help from the ref on a dump, setting up an easy clear. And, Steve Mason was good when he had to be, stopping Tim Brent on a point-blank one-timer late in the penalty.

The Jackets would again go down a man at the 14:45 mark, as Ryan Johansen would get the gate for interference as he essentially ran a full-on pick for Dorsett as Dorse took the puck off the boards on a cycle. Darryl Boyce played well on the PK, with a nice shot-block early on. The aggressive killing would continue, as John Moore got a chance shorthanded, ripping a slap shot that Ward was able to save. The Canes finally got into it as they had three great chances at the end of the penalty, but Mason stood tall.

The Jackets carried the final three minutes of the period, with a mini-break by Johansen, and a beautiful feed from behind the net from Derick Brassard to Cam Atkinson, though Cam couldn't get good wood on the shot. Despite being out-shot 12-6, the Jackets took the lead into the dressing room.

End of 1st: 1-0 Jackets

2nd Period

The second period began with a flurry from the Hurricanes. They kept the puck in the zone, and had three good looks early, culminating with a Patrick Dwyer shot that got by Mason and hit off the outside of the post.

But, the second period would belong to Brassard and R.J. Umberger. Brassard was feeding the puck all over the place; making it rain if you will. He set up Jack Johnson with a slick cross-ice feed, and would get on the board twice helping to set up Umberger.

The first came on an odd turn of events. Tuomo Ruutu came in on a 2-on-1 on Savard, and Savard made a great play to break up the chance. Somehow, Ruutu came out of the play with an interference penalty, and the Jackets PP unit--much-maligned of late--would not waste much time cashing in. Brassard would win a faceoff and get the puck to Nikita Nikitin, who got it to Umberger on the left point. He swooped around uncontested, unloading a blast from the point, and beat Ward to the far side to make it 2-0.

2-0 Jackets: R.J. Umberger (12th) at 9:03, from Nikita Nikitin and Derick Brassard - PPG

The Canes would go down a man once again, with Bryan Allen going off for a slash at 10:45, but the second time around Columbus couldn't get much going on the man advantage. Soon after the penalty was over, the Canes would finally get on the board. Drayson Bowman brought the puck down the right wing in a 2-on-1 against John Moore. Moore forced the shot, which Mason saved. The rebound came right back to Bowman, however, and Moore was a bit flat-footed (and still facing backward trying to man up Bowman) and couldn't keep Bowman from getting the puck to his stick to poke it by Mason.

2-1 Jackets: Drayson Bowman (6th) at 13:16, from Brandon Sutter and Justin Faulk - EV

Columbus would answer, however, and again it was numbers 16 and 18 doing the damage. Brassard had the puck on the left side, and fed a simply gorgeous cross-ice feed to Umberger on the right door-step. Umby uncorked a fat one-timer, and Ward had almost zero chance as it went top shelf to fill the bellies of the fans with chili and again extend a two-goal lead.

3-1 Jackets: R.J. Umberger (2nd of game, 13th) at 14:36, from Derick Brassard and Nikita Nikitin - EV

The Jackets carried most of the rest of the period, with Umberger almost getting the natural hatty with a shot that riccocheted off the skate of Faulk and that Ward had to scramble to reverse course and get his glove on.

However, the period ended on a down note, as Columbus would take successive penalties. Lebda went off at 19:30 for a trip, and on the kill Brassard sent the puck over the glass at the 19:55 mark. That last one hurt, as it would set the Canes up with 90 seconds of 5-on-3 to start the third.

End of 2nd: 3-1 Jackets

3rd Period

The period started with a huge 90-second 5-on-3 PK looming. The Jackets, however, were more than up to the task, as they killed off that 5-on-3 with aplomb, and finished off the other 25 seconds of PP time unscathed. The crowd roared its approval.

"Our guys did a great job," coach Todd Richards said. "I think there was one really good opportunity [on the 5-on-3] that Mase made the save on. Other than that we executed pretty well as far as what we wanted to do on the 5-on-3. Fresh ice and fresh players out on the ice, with a 3-1 lead, that was a huge kill. That kind of set up the rest of the third period."

The Canes pushed hard, getting their shot advantage to 17 at various points in the period, but the Jackets were able to weather the storm, so to speak. Mason was brilliant, and the puck seemed to bounce the Jackets' way almost 100% of the time. The teams traded penalties in the first half of the period, but despite some good chances for Columbus--a rather nice pass by Rick Nash to set up Umberger for an attempt at the hatty comes to mind--neither team could pot one.

It wasn't until the last six minutes that things were sealed, but when they were it was a thing of beauty. After a Carolina turn over at their own blue line, Brassard jumped on the loose puck and carried it in 2-on-1, with Umberger on his off wing. He waited almost impossibly long, finally sending it across to Umby, who put it past Ward. And the hats came raining down!

4-1 Jackets: R.J. Umberger (3rd of game, 14th) at 14:58, from Derick Brassard - EV

"There was no way I was shooting that puck," Brassard said. "The only thing is that he was not on his one-timer side, so for me with the puck I needed to try to sell the defensemen to turn his stick to open the lane. I waited, I waited, and I finally tried it at the end. Hat tricks are special in hockey."

Perhaps the craziest part of the hat trick was revealed after the game. Umberger had a broken stick next to his locker stall, and informed the media that it was an old, old stick (at least two or three years old he said) he'd found "at the bottom of [his] rack." He said he just needed a change of color, and the stick responded with a three-goal performance. Sadly, though, it was broken. Umby said he had two more at home. We'll see if they make another appearance on Sunday.

Whatever the secret was, the combination of Brassard finding Umberger was huge all night. "It seemed like RJ had a little light on his helmet," Brassard said. "Even the shift after [the hat trick] I saw him on the rush again."

"I don't think I changed my game," Brassard said when asked if things were different with the lineup switch. "Not only our line, but everyone, we just capitalized on every chance that we had. It's really hard to defend [when I can pull up in the zone]. It's really hard for the defensemen to get a read, and I try get the second wave, the defensemen when they're coming. That's my game; that's how I play."

"When Umby got his third to make it 4-1, the game kind of shut down, as far as how [the Hurricanes] were playing," Richards said. Indeed.

With the Hurricanes letting up a bit, the Jackets gave them a final little FU before all but ending their slim playoff hopes. Another 2-on-1 developed, with Mark Letestu taking it in on the left wing while Nash charged in on the right. Thinking it was going to Nash, the defender shaded, as did Ward. But Letestu waited him out, and snapped off a quick shot that seemed to surprise him to make it 5-1.

5-1 Jackets: Mark Letestu (9th) at 16:45 from Vinny Prospal and Jack Johnson - EV

For Johnson, it was the 100th assist of his career. On how his game has changed since being traded, Johnson said, "The coaches just said 'be yourself'. It's music to anyone's ears. I'm just going out, and just playing. And that's all I could ask for. I think I'm getting more and more like myself every day." For Johnson, the milestone came ironically enough against the team that drafted him. While that might seem like sweet revenge given the circumstances surrounding his trade, he was complementary of the Hurricanes organization for drafting him, and said it really had no bearing.

For the Jackets, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way for their fifth straight win over the Hurricanes.

Final Score: 5-1 Jackets

Standard Bearers

  • Steve Mason - Lost in all of the hat trick hullabaloo, Mason was tremendous again tonight. He stopped 39 shots, and was calm and confident. "I thought our goalie was great tonight," coach Richards said. "Mase was the difference in the game."
  • R.J. Umberger - What more can be said? The hat trick, and all three were solid goals. The save on the PP and the spin for the point shot, the absolutely RIPPED one-timer off the slick Brassard feed, and the nice finish with the puck on his backhand to get the trick.
  • Derick Brassard - This was Brassard at his ultimate apex. "He's one of the best I've seen that can pull up and find guys trailing and cross ice," Umberger said.
  • Vinny Prospal - A two-point night, he got the scoring started. And damn it, it's just fun to watch him celebrate scoring a goal!
  • Jack Johnson - Two more assists to give him 100 for his career, and it's clear that he's really enjoying playing in Columbus as it seems that he's freer to play the way he truly wants to play.
  • PK - I didn't even recognize the Jackets' PK tonight. They forechecked like crazy. They pressured the Canes in the neutral zone. The 5-on-3 kill to start the third period was simply HUGE. Mason was stout in net. It was a complete PK ownage from a team sitting dead-last in the league on the PK. "Mase was our best penalty killer," Jack Johnson said. "You need your goalie to be your best penalty killer in [the 5-on-3] situation."

Bottom of the Barrell

  • Cam Ward - He must hate seeing the Jackets on the schedule, as he falls to 0-4-0 against them. Not his best effort tonight, for sure. At least two of those goals he'd like to have back. But, in his defense, his team didn't do him any favors, either.
  • Brett Lebda - Have to find someone to pick on for Columbus. Bad penalties, and some turnovers. Count me among those who cannot wait for this season to end so that we hopefully won't have to see him in a Union Blue sweater ever again.

I barely recognized this team tonight. Their PK was uncharacteristically aggressive, though the Canes did help them out by being passive on the PP. They finished their chances. Umberger looked like a guy we've not seen at all this season, and quite frankly since the playoff season. He buried ALL of his chances, and was all over the ice. Brassard was the playmaker we all hope he can be consistently. Jack Johnson contributed offensively. Vinny Prospal and Nikita Nikitin both had two-point nights, as well. The Jackets got out-shot by a large margin (40-26), but Steve Mason was brilliant, and the Jackets got--and took advantage of--all the bounces.

The Jackets get a nice day to enjoy this one, and then Edmonton comes calling on Sunday in the final Fail Off game of the year.

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