Tonight, they didn't give up, but that doesn't mean it came so easily.
Through the first ten minutes, each team had a few looks, but the Jackets seemed to be tilting the ice their direction when Sean Collins was whistled for a somewhat...liberal...interpretation of goaltender interference. (Protip: When the goalie is well outside of his crease or the trapezoid, you're not actually supposed to call it.) Calgary's attempt to take control of the game on the PP backfired, though, when Mark Letestu took the puck away from T.J. Brodie in front of the net, slid around Miikka Kipprusoff, and tapped the puck into a wide open net to give Columbus the lead. It was his second shorthanded goal of the year, and the first shortie Calgary had allowed all season. If, as Aaron Portzline has reported, Test Tube is getting ready to sign a new deal to keep him in Columbus, he's making it look like a very smart investment.
Tim Jackman would attempt to spark the Flames bench late in the period by challenging Dalton Prout to some fisticuffs, but he'd be shocked to find out that #47 isn't one to be trifled with. Prout unleashed a furious barrage that shocked the veteran fourth liner, pummeling him to the ice and slamming him to the boards before the linesmen finally came in to intervene.
The lead would hold into the second period, but the Flames would tie the game after a failure cascade that saw Steve Mason come out WAY too far to make a save against Mike Cammalleri, Colton Gillies accidentally kicking the puck out from under Mason's glove before the ref whistled the play dead, and the biscuit bouncing around the crease, where Tim Erixon tried to stop it from crossing the line, but eventually tapped it into his own net while trying to fall on the puck.
Brian McGrattan would end up being credited for the tally, but this was pretty much a pure own-goal.
Fortunately, the Jackets would show they were quite capable of scoring into the other net, too.
R.J. Umberger (yes, really) would lead a charging breakout through the neutral zone, waiting paitently before passing over to Vinny Prospal for a bang-bang goal to restore the lead. Next, the "Hatched and Hungry" line would get back on the board after last night's offensive fireworks, this time with Matt Calvert getting the puck off the boards and torching the Flames defense, faking Kipper by looking off Jack Johnson on the odd man rush, then popping the shot home.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all rainbows and lollipops - some sloppy play after the Calvert goal would lead to Mikael Backlund coming out of the corner to cut the lead down, but Derick Brassard would respond with another goal off the rush, this one set up thanks to some good work in the defensive zone by Vinny and Letestu.
Another questionable penalty would come after the Brassard goal, and Ryan Johansen would find himself in the box for a hooking call that, again, seemed like it was earned more from the crowd at the Saddledome yelling at the officials than Johansen's stick tapping Cammalleri's hip.
Regardless, the call was made the the Jackets' PK needed to come up big to keep an increasingly desperate Calgary PP off the board, but unfortunately Dennis Wideman would get the look he wanted and fired a booming shot from the top of the faceoff circle that Steve Mason saw coming, but couldn't stop.
It looked like Ryan Johansen was pretty ticked off when he left the penalty box, and he put that energy to constructive use. Stripping the puck from Matt Stajan at center ice, the Johan walked straight in and fired a wicked backhand shelf that tucked right in under the crossbar and restored the two goal lead through forty minutes.
That goal also was the end of the night for Kipper, who would be replaced by Joey MacDonald to start the third period. The move settled the Flames down, and they began to put heavy pressure on the Jackets, trying to drag themselves back into the game. Mason, however, looked good, keeping the puck under control and settling things down through most of the third period, until Curtis Glencross busted in and smoked one past Mase with just over five minutes left in regulation.
(The irony that Glencross would score right after Jeff Rimmer praised Mason for his solid play in his first start since March 5th is not lost on us.)
When the Flames pulled MacDonald for the extra attacker in the final two minutes, you could be forgiven for feeling your sphincter tightening, especially considering that four of the last five meetings between these clubs have gone to OT or a shootout, but tonight, R.J. Umberger would chase down the puck, forcing Jiri Hudler to give up the puck to Artem Anisimov in the neutral zone, then take the puck off the boards and sail it into the open cage for a much needed insurance goal.
Final Score - Jackets 6, Flames 4
- Mark Letestu - It's not just the shorthanded goal. It's not just the great work setting up his linemates. It's not just winning six of eight draw. It's the total package. This guy just doesn't stop. Despite all the talk about R.J., JMFJ, or Vinny for Captain...perhaps another candidate has been emerging before our eyes.
- Ryan Johansen - No matter what you thought of the "hooking" penalty, that was the perfect way to respond, and eventually evolved into the GWG. Johan's been playing much better than his stat sheet for the past month. It's great to see him making it happen tonight.
- R.J. Umberger - Seriously, there are so many choices, but Umby deserves recognition. We've been calling out poor play a lot lately, but this was the kind of game we expected from him when he signed his new contract. He made plays happen at both ends of the ice, his two on one with Vinny was brilliant, and he taps the coffin lid shut with the ENG. Booyah.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Whaaaat - That bumble$(%* of a goal was just ridiculous. To add insult to injury, Erixon would leave the game shortly after and would not return. Here's hoping it isn't serious, and that he can get some good games in to erase this from everyone's memory.
- Jared Boll - After doing very little other than taking an interference penalty, Boll spent the third stapled to the bench. Head coach Todd Richards told the media it was mostly a case of Boll suffering from "bumps and bruises", but you have to wonder...maybe we'll be seeing him take a seat in the press box on Sunday?
- Tracksuit Mafia - If anyone other than Kipper had been in goal, this might have gone very differently. The Jackets got away from their successful formula. It's not so bad when they took advantage of the sloppy Flames D to break through on the rush over and over again, but the other side of that is alllowing the Flames to drive to the net with impunity and getting incredibly sloppy away from the puck. The club doesn't need to clamp so far down that we aren't doing anything offensively, but they need to find the balance again.
Three points in four games isn't what we wanted, but it's what they got. The Jackets return to Columbus tied with Dallas for 9th place, and one point back of St. Louis once again. Sunday's game against the Ducks isn't just the last home game before the deadline - it might be their best chance to crack the top eight before they head back out West.