"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible. Then they seem improbable...and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
In so many ways, this game against the Phoenix Coyotes was like playing chess against a mirror. Both teams have their flaws, but at the core, they are each about playing extremely simple, defensively focused games. Each team is dealing with fatigue, each club has impressive goaltending, and each club has some issues with their power play.
The Blue Jackets had a brilliant early chance thanks to Artem Anisimov driving to the net, only to be stopped by Mike Smith, but much of the first period, and indeed regulation, was a dug in fight around the neutral zone. Turnovers were made, giveaways forced, coverages challenged, but neither side was able to find an edge, and every time the Yotes or Jackets got the puck to the net, the goaltender had an answer.
In the second period, Jared Boll tried to spark things by challenging BizNasty, in part because the twitter all-star had refused to dance in the first period when he drew the ire of Dalton Prout. It was a frank exchange of views that left both fighters exhausted, but I'd say Boll took a slim edge for the technical decision. (For the curious, that fight was his 9th of the season, and it will tie Boll with B.J. Crombeen and Mike Brown for the fighting majors lead in the NHL.)
If it sparked a team, however, it seemed like it would give the lift to the Coyotes, who hammered on the door all period, but never found the way in. The Jackets did have some quality chances, particularly on a long delayed penalty call, but spent much of the period on the defensive, particularly a late penalty on Fedor Tyutin, though Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert would link up for an impressive shorthanded scoring chance in the final seconds of the frame.
Things got progressively tighter through the third period, as each team realized that the slightest mistake could prove fatal. Tim Erixon took the sole penalty of the period a short time after the Tyutin penalty expired, but the PK stood tall again. Each team became more and more cautious as the game went on, but both Smith and Bobrovsky would still need to make some important saves - Bob in particular had a game-saver on former Jacket Antoine Vermette with just over a minute left in regulation that might just be a save of the year canididate.
OT would give the Jackets new life, having extended their franchise record setting points streak, and where the club had been focused on their D for sixty minutes, they turned on the gas for the final five. Controlling play in the Phoenix zone, the Jackets were able to keep the pressure on, but could not get the puck to the net thanks to some great positioning and shot blocking from their opponents. Finally the horn sounded once again, and it was time for the team's fourth consecutive shootout. Fortunately, all that practice is starting to pay off.
Even though Bob had the statistical shutout, it was clear the team wanted to deliver the victory. Artem Anisimov would shoot first, and got a little tricky, appearing to set up for his patented backhand, but shifted in close to hammer it through Smith's five hole rather than the expected high glove.
Mikkel Boedker would get the first shot for Phoenix, but Bob challenged him, taking away the ice and forcing the shot wide.
Next up would be Mark Letestu, and like AA, he decided to mix things up with his move, sliding to the left and popping the water bottle with a brutal wrister.
Up 2-0, Bob would have the opportunity to seal the victory by stopping noted Jacket killer Steve Sullivan. The veteran pulled up and tried to fire the shot to the stick side, but Bob kept his cool and made the save, even giving fans a quick taste of the dance before he was mobbed by his celebrating teammates.
Final Score - Jackets 1 - Coyotes 0 (SO)
Interesting that this was the first time in franchise history that the team has won 1-0 in OT or a shootout. The team has lost the previous three occasions where they went scoreless through regulation.
This was the Jackets' final match against the Coyotes as a member of the Western conference, and given how badly the earlier meetings this season went, it's nice to end things on a high note.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - Who else for the top honors? Bob stopped 39 in regulation / OT plus the two shootout saves, and made several jaw-dropping moves in the process. I agree that this streak of insanely hot play won't last, but right now he shows no signs of coming down to Earth. Enjoy the ride for as long as it goes.
- Mark Letestu - His shootout move helped put the team into victory lane, but he spent 20 minutes winning faceoffs, fighting for the puck, and battling all game long. On the one hand, I'd really like to see Jarmo nail down a contract extension for the pending UFA, but on the other I have to admit that if this team decides to sell at the deadline, he's going to look awfully attractive to quite a few clubs...
- Artem Anisimov - Arty got moved around from line to line almost every shift while Todd Richards looked to spark the offense, but he found ways to contribute on almost every shift, and that shotout goal...unf. He's another guy looking for a new deal. I'd say he's earning it.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Ryan Johansen - The whole 18-19-71 line looked iffy tonight, but Johansen couldn't win a faceoff to save his life tonight, and way too many of his centering passes went through everyone's skates or off a shin pad, culminating in being dropped to the fourth line for much of the night.
- Power Play - Admittedly, the Jackets only had two chances with the man advantage, and they were facing a top 10 PK unit, but they continue to struggle with the man advantage lately.
- Rising Expectations - Seriously, how are we supposed to get a top three pick if these guys keep finding ways to pile on the points?
The Jackets have two more home games next week before hitting the road for 12 of the final 19 games of the season. It's dangerously tempting to think of the struggling Predators and basement dwelling Flames as "easy" games, but that's a mistake. These are wounded animals, ready to strike out at anyone who gets in front of them.
The Jackets must take advantage of these home matchups. These are opportunities that must not be passed up.
The time for retreating is over. Not one step back!