It was a must-win for the Colorado Avalanche. To keep their playoff hopes alive, they needed to beat the Jackets in regulation. Any other result, and the Avs were officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Jackets played spoiler in a 5-2 victory, led by a hat trick from Cam Atkinson and a pair of goals from Rick Nash.
For their final road game of the season, the Jackets showed up and played a solid 60 minutes. For the full rundown, please read on after the jump.
The game was less than a minute old before my choice for the Calder Trophy, Gabriel Landeskog, beat Columbus starter Steve Mason, but rang the puck off the iron. Mason was making his first start after missing a handful of games due to a head injury.
Moments later, Derek Dorsett and Cody MacLeod threw down. MacLeod always seems to draw the ire of Dorsett, I think that tussle was more of a personal thing than anything else.
The fight seemed to ignite the Avs, as they went on to pepper Mason with shots for the better part of the next two minutes. Landeskog got a few extra hacks in on Mason after the goaltender froze the puck, leading to a scrum behind the net. Rookie Dalton Prout was the first on scene to give Landeskog a reminder about taking liberties with his goaltender.
On the next shift, R.J. Umberger and Shane O"Brien exchanged pleasantries at the other end of the rink. The dislike for each other that each team was displaying was palpable. Each player would receive a roughing penalty.
At the 6:34 mark, the Jackets took the lead, and it was a beauty. Cam Atkinson was on the ice with Colton Gillies and Darryl Boyce. Boyce gathered the puck near his blueline, and fed a beautiful pass up the gut to a streaking Atkinson. Atkinson slipped through the Colorado defenders, deking Semyon Varlamov for the goal.
1-0 Jackets: Cam Atkinson (Darryl Boyce, Colton Gillies)
MIdway through the period David Jones and Jamie McGinn came together to tie the game. McGinn carried the puck up the right wing, and threw the puck towards the front of the net. In full stride Jones redirected the puck past Mason.
1-1: David Jones (Jamie McGinn, Paul Stastny)
The next four to five minutes saw the teams alternate time of possession, with no real excitement. Some interesting news was given by Jeff Rimer and the broadcast crew- Jack Johnson, John Moore and Cam Atkinson were all given invites to Team USA camp for the upcoming World Championship. Wisniewski's name wasn't mentioned, but it would be interesting to see if he's invited as well.
At 17:29, after some good work along the boards by Vinny Prospal, the puck worked its way to Mark Letestu near the right dot. He wired a shot on net, and Rick Nash was on the doorstep to gather the puck and put it behind Varlamov.
2-1 Jackets: RIck Nash (Mark Letestu, Vinny Prospal)
The first period lacked excitement, and the Avalanche didn't come out with the energy many thought they would, given their precarious playoff position and extended time between games.
At any rate, at the end of the first period, 2-1 Jackets.
There was no action until the 2:30 mark, when Boyce was whistled for high-sticking Erik Johnson. Boyce was handed a four-minute double minor, and it only took the Avs seven seconds into the first penalty to tie the game.
2-2: Paul Stastny (Peter Mueler, Tyson Barrie)
The Avs failed to score on the second penalty, with Mason making three huge saves to keep the game tied. At this point, Mason is under contract for next season. In any situation that sees him remain in Columbus he'll be the backup, but the question remains- will he be moved this summer?
Seconds after the Boyce penalty expired, the Jackets drew a penalty when Stastny was called for hooking. A quarter of the way through that penalty, Ryan O'Byrne was sent to the box for boarding Letestu. While on the five-on-three the Jackets showed some fantastic puck movement, with the sequence ending with Derick Brassard feeding Nash with a beautiful cross-crease pass, which Nash fired behind Varlamov.
3-2 Jackets: Rick Nash (Derick Brassard, Jack Johnson)
When the teams were five-on-five, the play was somewhat boring. The physical stuff from early in the first was nowhere to be found, and there were few odd-man rushes. The Jackets weren't letting up, but the Avs gave little pushback.
Just after the midway point of the period though, the Jackets came through with more offense. After a Colorado turnover in their end, Umberger gathered the puck and fed it to Atkinson in the left corner. He took it to the net, and banked the puck off a defenseman and behind Varlamov.
4-2 Jackets: Cam Atkinson (R.J. Umberger)
The remaining time saw the Jackets continue to apply pressure, and though they came close to increasing their lead at times, the score remained 4-2.
End of the second period, 4-2 Jackets.
The Avs came out with more jump to start the third then they'd shown in the previous two periods. It took until the 5:16 mark for things to get crazy.
Jamie McGinn was able to get a free look at Mason after receiving the puck at center ice. Jack Johnson got on his horse and flew back to check McGinn, making contact with him right in front of Mason. Johnson was shouldered off, but Mason took the full brunt of the collision. Johnson was handed a minor penalty for interference, and after the play Vinny Prospal was given a 10-minute misconduct for having words with the zebras. Terrible calls all around. Mason would shake it off, and the Avs went 0-fer on the powerplay.
Shortly before a media timeout, the word came down that Nash had an undisclosed injury and would not return. I'm hopeful that this game wasn't his last in a Columbus sweater- it would at least be good to see him go out on home ice.
At 13:58, the Avs' frustration broke through. Landeskog went after James Wisniewski, with the two trading shots. McGinn then jumped into the fray, popping shots off on Wisniewski. All three players were handed roughing minors.
With their playoff lives on the line, the Avs pulled Varlamov with 3:44 left in regulation, and they took their timeout with three minutes left on the clock. With 1:04 left, Atkinson iced it with an empty-netter for the hat trick. It was one of the nicest empty netters you'll ever see- he hustled down the ice chasing a loose puck. He made it there first, but whiffed on his initial shot. He regained the puck, and after undressing a defender, he slid the puck into the net between his legs.
5-2 Jackets: Cam Atkinson (Steve Mason)
FInal Score: 5-2 Jackets.
- #CamJam. It was great to see #13 get the hatty, and in spectacular fashion. It was also great to see linesman Pierre Racicot fetch the puck for Cam to keep as a momento of his first NHL hat trick.
- I have to give Ryan Russell a shout out. He was at it again, sacrificing the body to block shots. This game he was more involved in the offensive game, and it was great to see. More and more, I think he is a great candidate to play opposite of Derek Dorsett full-time on the Jackets' checking line next season.
- Steve Mason wasn't consistently tested, but at times the Avs buzzed and Mason stood tall.
- Nash scored two goals in what may be his last game in a CBJ uniform. Hopefully the injury that kept him out of the third period doesn't keep him out of the final game of the season at home on Saturday.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- We don't know what Vinny said, but Mike Leggo giving him a misconduct for what appeared to be a request for information is absurd.
- Ryan Johansen looked like he was floating at times- come on, man!