We've talked ad nauseum about the number of players, coaches and management staff that faced their former teams tonight, but the most important aspect of this matchup between the Jackets and Rangers was the fact it was a divisional "four point" game. Prior to the game, the Jackets were just two points behind the Rangers in the standings, and only three behind Carolina for the final playoff spot in the division.
As soon as the puck hit the ice on the opening faceoff, the Jackets were off and running. Brandon Dubinsky had a wraparound attempt early on Henrik Lundqvist, and the at the 38 second mark, Matt Calvert opened the scoring for the Jackets, racing down the wing and beating Lundqvist with a wrister high-glove. The sarcastic cheer on Lundqvist's next save just goes to show what level of expectation Rangers' fans have for their top players.
1-0 Jackets: Calvert- Atkinson, Tyutin
The Jackets continued to dictate the pace as the period wore on. The forecheck was effective, and the Jackets were firing shots at will on Lundqvist.
The only player that seemed out of sync was Columbus starter Curtis McElhinney. The Rangers weren't keeping him busy, but when he was tested he seemed to be fighting the puck, and over-complicating things in the cage.
Midway through the period, Rangers rookie Dylan McIlrath stood up Boone Jenner with a high hit at the Columbus blueline. It would serve as the first introduction to the Ranger rookie, who attempted to suck various Jackets into fisticuffs, and was a true pain in the Jackets' ass all night. As Jenner was receiving the hit, he managed to get the puck to Blake Comeau, who turned up-ice at speed. He had former Ranger Artem Anisimov streaking up the opposite wing, and at the last minute Comeau fed Anisimov, who made no mistake in giving his team a 2-0 lead.
2-0 Jackets: Anisimov- Comeau, Jenner
The aforementioned forecheck was in full effect minutes later when the Jackets went up by three goals, chasing Lundqvist from the game. With the Jackets working the boards, the puck was sent to open ice on the opposite side of the rink. David Savard snuck in, and wired the loose puck past Lundqvist for his first goal of the season.
3-0 Jackets: Savard- Unassisted
Many, including myself, have wondered when we'd see Tim Erixon, who's back with the Jackets after recently being recalled again. With Savard playing as well as he has lately, I think it will be a while longer before we see him.
The Rangers got on the board moments after the conclusion of a Fedor Tyutin holding penalty. McElhinney made the initial save, but had no idea where the puck was within his gear. In turning to his left to search for the puck, it fell out of his gear, unbeknownst to the goaltender. Dominic Moore was there to deposit the loose puck into the net. McElhinney again seemed to be fighting the puck, lacking focus...something was off.
3-1 Jackets: Moore- Richards
The goal didn't faze the Jackets, as they continued to apply pressure on the Rangers. The Rangers returned the favor with a physical response- one Columbus player who was receiving a lot of attention was Ryan Johansen, and at one point late in the second period he got into it with old buddy Derek Dorsett. The two were given matching roughing calls with Johansen hilariously smirking at Dorsett from his seat in the visitor penalty box. For the record, Johansen was loving it, while Dorsett was none too pleased. Hilarious.
There was a bit of a surprise to start the second period, with Mike McKenna replacing McElhinney in net. The official word from the Jackets was that McElhinney was out for the night with the dreaded lower-body injury. I wonder, does a lack of focus originate below the waistline? Until we hear something more concrete, injury-wise, I'm diagnosing the injury as a case of the MSG Yips.
Johansen, playing with a ton of piss and vinegar, hovered over Ranger goalie Cam Talbot after the latter made a save. The show of sauciness was a terrific attempt to throw Talbot off his game, and it goes to show how much swagger Johansen is playing with right now. Naturally, the Rangers didn't care for this stunt, but Nick Foligno stepped in to prevent Johansen from getting his nose pushed in. The leadership Foligno brings to the team has been quite evident this season, and he certainly deserves some credit for Johansen's breakout.
McKenna brought a calming effect to the Columbus net. He saved everything that came his way in the middle period, and his steadiness seemed to relax the Jackets as a whole in the defensive zone.
If I had one complaint for Dubinsky this season, it would be that I think he needs to redirect his intensity a bit, as he can take the occasional bad penalty. He had back-to-back penalties late in the second, but luckily the Jackets were able to to kill both off, mainly due to the work of McKenna.
The refs seemed to check out early with about ten seconds left in the second frame, when Dan Girardi torpedoed Calvert with a diving poke check. It was classic tripping, but it likely saved a goal as the Jackets were about to break out on a three-on-one.
The ice was tilted in the Jackets' favor to start the third period. It remained that way until midway through the final frame, when the Rangers began their push. Dalton Prout and Dorsett were whistled for concurrent holding and high-sticking penalties, though the Prout component was nowhere to be found, in this humble writer's opinion.
While four-on-four, with the Rangers pressing, McKenna was beaten by a Dan Girardi wrister. Zuccarello snuck down the left wing, firing a nice pass to the pinching defender.
3-2 Jackets: Girardi- Zuccarello, Del Zotto
The goal gave the MSG fans energy, which was absorbed by the Rangers' players. There was an uneasy feeling from a Columbus perspective that the Rangers were mere seconds from tieing the game, and all eyes were on Talbot, waiting for him to make his sprint for the bench for the extra attacker. With less than 90 seconds left, Johansen gathered the puck in the neutral zone, and skated up-ice on Talbot, firing a hard shot on-net. Talbot made the save, but the puck trickled through his gear and into the net.
4-2 Jackets: Johansen- Tyutin
The Rangers pulled Talbot, but couldn't beat McKenna.
FINAL SCORE: 4-2 Jackets
- Ryan Johansen, because Ryan Johansen. Can you say BEAST MODE?
Columbus Blue Jackets: That's right, total team effort tonight.
- I'm a Rimer/Davidge fan. I know some aren't, but I like these guys. Having Jody Shelley between the benches? I loved the broadcast tonight.
- Mike McKenna came into the game in a tough situation- unexpected, at MSG of all places, and was solid as a rock. He even showed a keen ability to play the puck. I say give him the Blues start on Saturday, even if McElhinney recovers from his lower body yips.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- The back-to-back Dubinsky penalties turned out to be non-detrimental, but they could have had a hugely negative impact on the game.
For the advanced stats for this game, be sure to check out Extra Skater.
The Jackets return to action on Saturday against Ken Hitchcock and the Blues.