"Ubi Concordia, Ibi Victoria"
After stringing together back to back wins, the Blue Jackets had a tough challenge to pull themselves back to .500, thanks to the arrival of the Atlantic Division co-leading Maple Leafs. It didn't really get any easier when the Leafs' booster club decided to make this one of their major road trip games, leading to a massive influx of Toronto fans, turning home field advantage into something dangerously close to hostile ground.
Good thing the boys decided to deliver one of their best efforts to date.
After a couple near heart attacks by the Kessel and Clarkson lines as they tested the Columbus defense early, the Jackets began stepping up their game. Forcing themselves to meet the Leafs' pace, they began to dictate the game within the first few shifts, leading to Nick Foligno drawing a penalty from the newly returned David Clarkson a little over four minutes into the first period.
The power play started a bit slow, but the second(?) PP unit started to move the puck with authority in the offensive zone. Ryan Murray would play some catch with Ryan Johansen at the top of the zone before pinching in low, while The Johan sent the puck over to James Wisniewski at the point. Wiz fired in a hard slapper that rebounded off Jonathan Bernier's leg and dribbled into the blue paint, and Murray was in like a scalpel to send it home for his first career NHL goal.
The Jackets continued to push hard, outshooting Toronto 16-6, and only a last minute stacked pad save on Cam Atkinson kept the score at 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Columbus needed to keep up the hard charge to start the second period, but unfortunately a bad clearing attempt by David Savard in the first minute of play was intercepted by James Van Riemsdyk. JVR set up Tyler Bozak down low, forcing Sergei Bobrovsky to overcommit, and Bozak sent a perfect pass onto Phil Kessel's stick, who sniped his 6th of the season into a wide open net.
Despite the early goal, the Jackets clawed back again, drawing three more power plays in the second, but neither team could find an advantage despite an intense, almost playoff like atmosphere. End to end rushes became the order of the day, and Cam Atkinson nearly had a highlight reel goal when he was sprung for a 1 on 1 against Bernier, but hit the post.
Columbus would draw a late penalty from Nazem Kadri just before the end of the second period, and while they did not score on the power play to open the third, they did find their legs and use that momentum to force the Leafs down into their defensive zone, culminating in a perfect play by Nick Foligno to go into Gretkzy's office, slip a fast puck to Marian Gaborik, and Gabby would one-time the puck past Bernier to regain the lead.
The see-saw of feint and counterattack continued as the Jackets worked to protect their lead, but a dustup along the boards would see Kadri called for tripping and Prout for interference with nine minutes left in regulation, and things would go from bad to worse when Fedor Tyutin was forced to take a tripping call to shut down a Jay McClement breakaway.
But just as it is darkest before the dawn, this was merely the precursor to better things. Brandon Dubinsky would hit the ice as part of the opening PK unit for the 3-on-4 disadvantage, and after collecting the loose puck along his own boards, he tore down the ice with Mark Letestu. Test Tube would draw the coverage away as the Leafs looked for the buddy pass, so Dubi just loaded up and smoked Bernier to the glove side for the Jackets' first shorty of the season. (Also, according to Mr. Portzline, the first time the Jackets have scored in a 3-on-4 situation since the 2005-2006 season.)
As the home fans roared their approval, the Jackets killed the remaining penalties and worked to push the play back up ice, but a puck that went off Cam Atkinson's skate would rebound to Mason Raymond, then over to Paul Ranger. Ranger fired a quick shot that Sergei Bobrovsky was able to stop, but Dave Bolland was waiting for the rebound, bringing it back to a one goal game.
It would be Bolland who had the next most impactful play, but unfortunately for him it was not one that helped his club. Knocking down Marian Gaborik in his own zone, the former Blackhawk would head to the penalty box, and Columbus would gear up for a pivotal man advantage.
The Jackets would hammer on the door with two officially registered shots on goal during the power play, plus a Fedor Tyutin shot that was deflected into the netting and two scrums around the net that Bernier was forced to stop, including a near-miss scramble that nearly gave Ryan Murray his second goal of the year.
The Leafs survived the penalty, and managed to get Bernier out of the net for an extra attacker with about 45 seconds left, but R.J. Umberger would charge into the zone and draw the Toronto defenders to him before sending a quick feed to Ryan Johansen. His first shot would be blocked, but the Jackets would recover the puck after it bounced to the end boards, and Brandon Dubinsky did the kid a solid by setting him back up for the empty netter he'd just been denied.
With the nail in the coffin and under 30 seconds left to play, the fans were on their feet and screaming in anticipation of a victory, but the boys weren't satisfied with their effort quite yet. Tearing into the Toronto zone after the post-goal faceoff, the Jackets exposed the Leafs' defense again, this time with Fedor Tyutin sending a shot from the high boards down to Mark Letestu, who had Bernier down and square to him before feeding Nick Foligno for a tap-in goal to make it a 5-2 advantage with just under seven seconds to play.
The referees were required by rule to drop the puck, but this game was over, and both teams knew it. Toronto stopped skating as soon as Letestu won the draw, and you could barely hear the final horn for the cheering.
It's my job to put this game into words, but it all seems so dry and academic compared to the crackling emotion that I experienced at the rink. I suspect this game is going to be entering into the fan canon of "Oh, man, I was there" games rather quickly. The Jackets dominated the first and third periods, the Leafs had control of the second, and all throughout there was a constantly increasing tension, like someone sliding a razor blade across a balloon. When Dubinsky delivered his party piece, something snapped, and the fans in the building seemed to kick it up to another level, drowning out a contingent of Toronto fans that almost certainly outnumbered them.
When he was being interviewed after the game, Johansen said this game was a pretty good way to start a rivalry.
I have the feeling he's right.
Final Score: Jackets 5 - Leafs 2
- Ryan Murray - His first "real" NHL goal came in almost as memorable a fashion as the one he scored in the preseason. Here's hoping this is the first of many for his career.
- Complete Effort - Everyone was on board and driving this game from the first shift to the last. Truly a team win in every sense of the word.
- Brandon Dubinsky - This is our Captain. I don't care if he has a letter on his chest or not. This is our Captain. And how classy was it to give Johansen the ENG instead of trying to take a shot himself?
- Nick Foligno - For a guy who has been through some really rough stuff early on this season, it was great to see him celebrating that goal.
- Faceoffs - 44 wins out of 66 draws. Daaaaaaaamn, son.
- Hockey Fights Cancer - Can't believe I left this out. Tonight was this season's official HFC game, and the Blue Jackets organization went all out, giving tickets to families in the A Kid Again program, hosting a number of cancer patients and survivors, and highlighting doctors and nurses from OhioHealth during the game. Cancer has touched a loved one or friend of nearly every person I know. My father is a survivor. He is incredibly lucky, and I am incredibly grateful. The battle against this disease goes on every day. Thank you to those who fight it. Thank you to those who support the families affected by it, and thank you for honoring the people whose lives are irrevocably changed by it, no matter the outcome. If you are a survivor, in treatment, or supporting a loved one in their battle, I wish you strength, health, and success.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Turnovers - Both Toronto goals came from coughing up the puck. I give some credit to the Leafs for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them, but the Jackets should have been smarter with the puck, and were lucky it didn't cost them.
- Bob? - Seregi Bobrovsky was fantastic for probably 59 minutes of this game, including a kick save that sent the puck flying over the netting and out into the stands, but he had a couple of pretty crazy brain farts, including one sequence where he left his net and nearly sent the puck from the end boards right to a Leafs' forward before he realized the mistake and froze the puck. Do more with less, Bob. Stay in your crease. For the love of God, please stay in your crease.
- Stay Classy - Most of the Toronto fans who visited our fair city today were good spirited and graceful in defeat, but a few decided to mark their visit with some atrocious behavior. It wasn't enough that they decided to throw hats and beers on the ice after the late Bolland penalty, but they also became combative with the Nationwide Arena ushers, eventually resulting in one of them trying to take a swing at the Columbus Police Department officer who was called to remove them. Please enjoy your free ride in a police car and a brief stay in one of our nicely appointed jails.
I have to borrow a line from my wife: "This is the kind of game I wish I could take non-hockey fans to, so they could see what makes the game so special." That's about the best way I think anyone could sum this one up.
The Jackets can savor this for the evening, but it's back to practice tomorrow, and the Anaheim Ducks come calling on Sunday.
If they play like this again, it should be one hell of a time.