"Just walk away and there will be an end to the horror."
-The Lord Humungus, Warrior of the Wasteland, Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah, etc etx.
The Blue Jackets had some good news as they started their final game of their West Coast swing. (The club will be back in Dallas later this week, but the club will get the chance to go home, see family, and drop off their laundry first.)
With Minnesota trailing Calgary 3-1 late in the third (eventually to lose 4-1), they knew a victory could move them into a tie with the Wild for 7th place in the West, though the Wild remain up on games in hand. The door was open, if they could seize the opportunity.
As they have so often of late, the team came out with a motivated start, putting significant pressure on the Sharks and Antti Niemi, but when San Jose had opportunites, they forced Sergei Bobrovsky to make good saves, including second and third effort stops, leading to the Sharks dominating the shot clock despite Columbus having the overall edge in possession.
Then, suddenly, the game changed on a play. Following a successful penalty kill a few minutes earlier, the Jackets drew momentum when Vinny Prospal got the puck around Jonathan Braun, feeding it to Jack Johnson for an odd man rush. Johnson then made Niemi buy the shot before sending it to Mark Letestu for a perfect redirect, giving Columbus a 1-0 lead that would stand up through the end of the first period.
In the second period, the Jackets unleashed a furious attack, picking up where they left off from their earlier whippings of the Sharks on Nationwide ice. Things would start early, when Mark Letestu took the puck away from Brad Stuart and fed it to Vinny Prospal for a one on one breakaway, which he would bury into the back of the net for the 2-0 lead.
Martin Havlat would finally get the Sharks on the board when Logan Couture dug the puck out behind the Columbus net and sent it to Havlat for a fast shot at the top of the crease (credit to Havlat for getting there, but a shake of the head for Jack Johnson, who allowed him to walk out in front), but Brandon Dubinsky would draw an interference penalty (one of only two Columbus power play opportunities on the night), and the woeful Columbus power play...would make San Jose pay for it, thanks to Marian Gaborik setting a screen before Mark Letestu bombed in a shot from the point. (Note to coach Richards - maybe you should put #55 up high more often...)
Unfortunately, it's not all wine and roses. After earning the 3-1 lead through forty minutes, the Jackets showed clear signs of letting off the gas after failing to convert on another early power play opportunity. San Jose would draw energy from the kill, and Andrew Desjardins would score on an eerily similar play to the Havlat goal - getting in around the defense, going to the net, and beating Bob.
The lead was holding for much of the third, but Jack Johnson would take a bad interference penalty late, and Joe Pavelski would create space for himself and taking a clean shot on Bob to tie the game.
Maalox caps were popping around the 614 area code when, once again, things changed. After a night where he couldn't hit the ground by falling on it, R.J. Umberger picked Pavelski's pocket inside his own zone, then made an incredibly smart decision - he handed the puck off to Ryan Johansen.
The "Johan" was primed and ready, and fired a bullet straight to the back of the net with just under a minute and a half to go.
San Jose would pull the goalie in an attempt to tie it up again, but couldn't get the pressure they needed to break through on Bobrovsky, while the Jackets missed several attempts to pop the puck down into the open cage. It wouldn't matter, however, once time ran down, and the Jackets would be holding on to their lead as the time ran down.
Final Score: Jackets 4 - Sharks 3
- Mark Letestu - Huge game for Test Tube. Two big goals, his first career three point game, and a bad bounce or two away from his first career hat trick.
- Ryan Johansen - After a brief drought, the Johan was right back on it, and nailed a huge game winner.
- Brandon Dubinsky - Drawing a key penalty and dominating on faceoffs, Dubi didn't score, but he and his line were a huge part of the club's defensive play.
- Road Warriors - Did anyone..ANYONE...expect this team to go 4-1 on this five game swing?
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Jack Johnson - On the one hand, Johnson had a couple of brilliant plays defensively and offensively, in particular the opening goal...but on the other, he (or his penalties) lead directly to each San Jose goal.
- Third Period Effort - The team needed to put their skates down, as they have several times on this road trip, and instead they eased up. It came VERY close to costing them, but full credit for finding a way to win regardless.
- Penalty Kill - The one is a symptom of the other, but the Jackets' PK has looked rather human of late. That could be awfully risky going into the postseason.
With the win in regulation, the Jackets are now tied with Minnesota in the Western Conference. If LA can beat Dallas in regulation, they'll be in excellent position as they rest, recover, and reload for their final pair of games.
It's going to be a few days of scoreboard watching, a little nerves, and a lot of excitement here in Columbus.
Who could have expected? Who dared to dream?
It's a great time to be a Blue Jackets' fan.