Normally, I would apply some song lyrics to the recap. Not tonight. Call it a moment of silence.
This game had no meaning in the standings. It wasn't about points. Neither team needed them, really. It was about one thing: closure. For the Jackets and their fans, on one hand it was the merciful ending to an awful season. On the other, it was a lot like a funeral march; Rick Nash most likely played his last game as a Blue Jacket tonight.
Nash was a game-time decision, but not only did he play, but he gave the fans plenty of reasons to cheer him. And, his mates made sure to give the home fans--who showed up in droves and were great all night, all 17,652 of them--plenty to cheer for. And, most importantly, after such a dreadful season, they sent the fans home happy for a change.
"It was awesome," Nash said of the fans. "They're unbelieveable. I've always said that they're the most patient and loyal fans around the league, and they really owned up to their name tonight."
The first period was largely an uninteresting 20 minutes of hockey. Derek Dorsett made his early push for the PIMs title with a fight with Matt Martin plus an extra two for roughing at the 5:02 mark. The Jackets also got a crack at a Power Play at the 7:51 mark when Marty Reasoner went off for tripping. Neither team could generate much on the man advantage.
The Islanders carried most of the play, as their puck control and passing was much better than was the Jackets'. Steve Mason had to make a couple of saves, and didn't get a ton of help. In the first few minutes, the Matt Moulson--John Tavares--Kyle Okposo line created some havoc, and Mason was fighting the puck a bit early on. A few minutes later Dalton Prout gift-wrapped a chance with a blind pass from behind his own goal line, but Mason was there for the stop.
Things continued that way, with the Isles largely winning the period, until The Captain would give the fans a thrill. Vinny Prospal came off the right wall and fed it to Mark Letestu in the slot, who blistered a shot. Al Montoya made the save, and went down with the puck loose. There was no whistle, and Rick Nash basically climbed over defenseman Mark Streit to get to it. He was able to get a stick on it, and push it into the goal under Montoya's legs.
1-0 Jackets: Rick Nash (30th) at 19:25, from Mark Letestu and Vinny Prospal - EV
The crowd roared their approval, and the Jackets would take the lead into the dressing room even though they were badly outplayed.
End of 1st Period: 1-0 Blue Jackets
The second period picked up where the first left off, with a flurry of goals. It was non-stop, end to end action. The scoring barrage began when the man they call Camsanity picked up where he left of on Thursday. Cruising the center of the ice, he intercepted a pass and took it in on the left side. As a defender closed in, he gathered the puck, and wired a sick snipe over Montoya's left shoulder and into the upper 90. The puck went in and out so hard and fast it was back out and in the circle before Atkinson even raised his arms in triumph.
2-0 Jackets: Cam Atkinson (6th) at 4:15 - EV
The Islanders weren't content to roll over and die, however. Steve Mason played well without much help, and after a flurry culminating with a Michael Grabner shot from in close, Mason made the save while on his back. The problem was that the puck cycled back to former (briefly, remember?) Jacket Milan Jurcina at the right point, who unleashed a blistering slapper that beat Mason before he could really get reset.
2-1 Jackets: Milan Jurcina (3rd) at 7:32, from Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner - EV
Things got a bit chippy after that, as Jared Boll and Michael Haley would tangle, with Boll getting the much, much better end of it thanks to several unchecked uppercuts to finish it off.
The Jackets would answer the goal, thanks to some great work by the combination of Derick Brassard, Atkinson, and R.J. Umberger. Brassard had the puck on the left wall, and fed it to Atkinson below the goal line in a mini-cycle. Umberger cut through to the net, and Atkinson hit him in stride. Umberger had plenty of time to undress Montoya and stuff the puck past him for his 20th goal.
3-1 Jackets: R.J. Umberger (20th) at 11:12, from Cam Atkinson and Derick Brassard - EV
For Umberger, it was his fourth straight 20-goal season in Columbus. I never thought he was going to get there as recently as early March, but he's been as hot as anyone on the team of late.
And then, a Blue Jacket clinched a season best-in-league total. Derek Dorsett threw down with Matt Martin again. Martin got the best of the match-up, but for Dorse, the five PIMs put him over the top to claim the league title, if you will.
This time it was the Isles' turn to answer. After a change of possession, Jurcina sent a stretch pass to Kyle Okposo, who was waiting at the Jackets' blue line. He skated in on the right side, and wired a shot that beat Mason, hit the post, kicked back into Mason, and trickled back into the net.
3-2 Jackets: Kyle Okposo (24th) at 13:11, from Milan Jurcina - EV
The period would end with the Jackets getting a rare boost from their Power Play. Finally giving the fans a look at what was hoped for, it would be James Wisniewski's booming point shot that would set up two goals to end the period. The Jackets went up 5-on-3 when Andrew MacDonald would go off for holding at 17:40, and then Steve Staios would get the gate at 18:30 for a slash. The Jackets got 1:10 of 5-on-3 time, and they didn't waste it.
Jack Johnson fed the puck down low to Vinny Prospal on the right side, and he dropped a slick cross-ice feed to Wisniewski at the point. Wiz unleashed the beast of a one-timer, and Montoya never saw it.
4-2 Jackets: James Wisniewski (6th) at 18:48, from Vinny Prospal and Jack Johnson - PPG
The best part was that it came before the first penalty expired, so Columbus continued on the Power Play. It was Wiz again getting it started, this time from the right point. Another bomb unleashed, this one was stopped. Dorsett was camped in front and got a stick on it, and directed it to the side for Atkinson, who shot it into the empty net.
5-2 Jackets: Cam Atkinson (2nd of game, 7th) at 19:32, from Derek Dorsett and James Wisniewski - PPG
The crowd roared as the Jackets took a commanding lead into the dressing room.
End of 2nd Period: 5-2 Blue Jackets
The Islanders came out in the third, and all but packed it in. The Jackets tallied again off of a nice play featuring some great puck movement and the newest Jacket showing his stuff. Brassard came into the zone, dropped it to Wisniewski, who then fed a streaking Jack Johnson who was coming in on the right wing unchecked. Johnson's one-timer beat Montoya, who had no chance.
6-2 Jackets: Jack Johnson (12th) at 4:41, from James Wisniewski and Derick Brassard - EV
The Jackets weren't done, even. As if to give the fans a chance to cheer EVERYBODY, Vinny Prospal would get in on the act. After a nice feed from Nikita Nikitin, Prospal brought the puck in on the right side, pulled up, and wired a shot high past Montoya.
7-2 Jackets: Vinny Prospal (16th) at 11:03, from Nikita Nikitin - EV
The Islanders spent most of the rest of this one going through the motions, though they managed to get on the board once more. Dylan Reese fed it to Mark Streit on the right half wall, and Streit sent it back across to Grabner, who uncorked a slapper to beat Mason.
7-3 Jackets: Michael Grabner (20th) at 16:27, from Mark Streit and Dylan Reese - EV
The goal wouldn't damped the spirit of the team and the fans. The Jackets even gave Shawn Hunwick a chance to make his NHL debut, putting him in for Mason at the 17:30 mark of the third period. A nice run for the kid, even though he had to replace his Wolverines helmet with a blank white one. Sigh. The fans, though, were great, giving Hunwick a strong ovation.
And, in the final 35 seconds, the 16-18-13 line was back out, trying to get Atkinson his second straight hat trick. He had one good look, but couldn't put it home.
But, despite a meaningless game played fast and loose ("loosey-goosey," according to coach Richards), the night was all about the fans. The Jackets pushed to send their fans home happy. And that they did. Now we just have to play the waiting game with Rick Nash.
Final Score: Blue Jackets 7, Islanders 3
- Rick Nash - it doesn't matter what he did or didn't do tonight. He's been the face of this franchise for basically a decade. He's given as much as he could, and he just never had the help. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that we just saw his last game in a Blue Jackets sweater tonight, and it leaves me feeling empty. I wish him well next year wherever he goes, and I say thank you, Rick, for everything. I'm just sorry we couldn't ever get it done here in Columbus.
- Cam Atkinson - Cammy Cam, what a finish to the year. 10 points in the final six games, with five goals and five assists. And, he was close to a second straight hat trick. Here's hoping it's a springboard to next season. "It's hard to score goals," Atkinson said, "Thank God I've been able to find the back of the net." Aktinson scored seven goals in Columbus to go with 29 goals in Springfield.
- James Wisniewski - Gave us a glimpse of what the PP can look like when he's healthy and teamed up with Jack Johnson. "It was kind of like a parting of the Red Sea on that cross-seam pass [from Prospal on the first PP goal]," Wiz told me. "There was nobody in my shooting lane, so I just picked my corner. On the 5-on-4, great pass across, Dorse did a great job with the screen, and Cam swoops in and makes an incredible shot." Speaking of Johnson...
- Jack Johnson - 14 points in his 20 games with Columbus, Johnson showed us a flash of what he can bring offensively. Not only that, but he's +5, which considering the knock on him coming over was his defense, it's nice to see.
Bottom of the Barrel
- The Fact the We Even Have to Talk About Trading Rick Nash - I don't really want to give "BotB"s for players tonight, so let's just give to the organization for creating a situation where Rick Nash asked to be traded, and no one could really blame him. A horrible season. A rebuild. Your best player wanting to go. It's just a crappy situation.
When asked, Nash deferred. When asked what was next for him, he said, "Probably some rest." When asked if he'd reflected on the fact that this might be his last game as a Blue Jacket, he gave his standard answer: "It's tough. It's a fun a building to play in. I love Columbus. Next week's going to be fun hanging out with the guys and finishing things off, but it hasn't really crossed my mind too much."
Well, there you have it. The players set a goal for themselves to go 11-8 over the last 19 games, and they did it. "I tell you what, that's one thing we're trying to change in this organization, is the culture," Wisniewski told me. "Not accepting mediocrity and having pride. I don't care what anybody says. They can say it's easier to play this time of year because there's nothing to lose, but all the other teams are scratching for points. It takes a lot of work to win in March and April."
What this means going forward, well, we'll spend more time next week figuring that out.