When looking for a way to describe this game, our own Dan P. was quite helpful when he said, "Well, Florida is bad."
Honestly, that is a little mean, but it's also true - and frankly, it explains how the Blue Jackets were able to walk out of this one with two points despite looking utterly flat for significant chunks of the second and third periods.
In the first period, however, the Jackets hit the Panthers like a brick, pinning them into their own zone most of the time and only allowing two shots on Sergei Bobrovsky through 10 minutes, while putting 9 on Tim Thomas at the other side of the rink.
The tempo began to change when Brandon Dubinsky was called for a hook on Ed Jovanovski, but some decent PK work and a couple of great saves by their goaltender prevented Florida from capitalizing on some pretty significant pressure.
As it has in the last few games, the successful kill energized the team, and Ryan Johansen would get things going on his next shift, blocking a shot and then heading up ice with Horton and Jenner on his wings. Driving to the net, he tried to stuff the puck through a sprawling Thomas, but got a little bit of luck when the veteran goaltender failed to cover the puck properly. As Thomas attempted to get his glove completely onto the biscuit, the puck ended up bouncing back towards Jenner, who popped it into a wide open net for the 1-0 lead.
That same line would strike again a few minutes later, this time featuring a nice feed from Nikita Nikitin at his own blue line over to Horton in the neutral zone. Horton got on side and waited for both Johansen and Jenner to get deep, then sent a quick pass to Jenner at the left faceoff dot. Boone found a wide open Johansen as Thomas attempted to square up to the initial threat, and suddenly #19 was tied with guys like JVR and Blake Wheeler with 22 goals on the season.
Fans were pretty stocked after that opening period, so of course the Panthers would take over the game in the second and cut the lead in half.
With the Jackets appearing to coast on the two goal lead through most of the second period, the team got a pretty sharp wakeup call. Outshot almost as badly as they'd hammered the Panthers in the first, they couldn't get fresh legs onto the ice because they simply couldn't break the puck out of their own end. Finally, when the exhausted defenders did manage to clear the puck out, the Panthers managed to break back in midway through the line change, trapping both Nikitin and the returned David Savard. Both defenders tried to collapse to protect their net, but Brad Boyes' shot would end up taking a funny bounce off of Savard's stick that ended up with the puck in the back of the net, and the Panthers suddenly feeling like they had a game again.
Not surprisingly, coach Todd Richards used his time out to put a bit of heat on the team for their lackluster performance, but things didn't really turn around until quite late in the period, when the home team got another bit of puck luck.
Nick Foligno has been trying just about everything to find his scoring touch again, and it turns out all he needed was a chance to shoot on Tim Thomas. With the puck on his stick and plenty of room to work, Foligno fired a knuckler that Thomas came out to stop, but ended up watching as it trickled through his legs and juuuuuuuuuuuuuuust barely tucking into the inside post of the net. The shot was a bit of a slow roller, but fortunately none of the defenders could get back to swat it away, and Columbus once again owned a two goal lead at the end of the second period.
Things took a bit to get started in the third period, but not because of either team. The arena lights malfunctioned, delaying the start of play for several minutes, during which time Florida coach Peter Horachek apparently threatened his team with immediate expulsion to Edmonton, because they came out swinging hard, and only some key saves from Sergei Bobrovsky preserved the 3-1 lead.
Nothing looked terribly impressive from a Columbus standpoint, and you almost began to fear that they'd somehow find a way to cough this lead up, too, but just when they were most needed, the team's fourth line made it happen once again.
Corey Tropp laid a bone jarring hit on Nick Bjugstad, relieving him of the puck, and getting the puck to Derek MacKenzie, who attempted to score on Thomas from the top of the crease. The shot failed to connect, but DMaC got the puck back and sent a wicked behind the back pass to a wide open Mark Letestu, who had nothing but net in front of him as he slammed in his eight goal of the campaign.
The lead comfortably extended, the Jackets once again pumped the brakes, but thankfully avoided any more stumbles as they worked the clock down, leaving the crowd and the fans at home breathing a collective sigh of relief as the final horn sounded, and the club skated to center ice to salute their fans before hitting the road.
Final Score: Jackets 4 - Panthers 1
- Sergei Bobrovsky - If Bob hadn't come to play, this game could have gone downhill awfully fast. Stopping 28 shots in the second and third periods combined, he left the ice tonight with his 19th win of the season and a .972 save percentage on the night. He's got 9 wins and a .949 save percentage in 2014 so far,and most certainly stole a good bit of this game.
- Ryan Johansen - The decision to combine him with Horton and Jenner to help provide some offensive spark has paid off big so far. He got a little luck on the first goal of the night, but he spent most of his shifts making his own luck by doing the little things right.
- Nikitia Nikitin - Niki6 only got one assist tonight according to the score sheet, but he factored into both first period goals, and aside from getting caught out on the Boyes goal, quietly had an excellent game.
- Nathan Horton - Not for his assists tonight, though that was nice. What makes him a star in my book is that when he was asked about the game, he told Fox Sports and the various media interviewers that the team got very lucky tonight, and that they had to play better while on the West Coast if they want to walk away with points. Thank you for calling this team on it.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Cruise Control - Once again, the tendency to coast with a lead instead of putting the boots down almost cost this team a win. Thank god Tim Thomas still thinks he's an NHL goalie. I sincerely hope that the couple of weeks off that (most) of the team will get during the Olympics will allow them to get ready for the back stretch, because there's not going to be a lot of breathing room come March 1st.
- Steve Mason - Sure, go pitch a shutout and keep the Flyers right on our heels. Great. Thanks. Dammit.
The Jackets will fly to sunny California tomorrow, and have most of the day to adjust before facing the Ducks on Monday. This is going to be a tough road trip, especially with the Olympics looming, but picking up points before the league shuts down is exactly the springboard they need.
This team is in playoff position with seven games to go before the trade deadline. Picking up another 8-10 points would push them firmly into the "buyer" category, likely looking to add a piece or two to help them make a serious run.
They have 60 points right now. The odds are looking like 92 points will get you a playoff spot, one way or the other. That's 16 more wins, give or take a few over time losses.
Tonight was a pretty sloppy game, but it was still a win. After 82 games, if you're one of the 8 teams moving on to the playoffs, nobody cares how sloppy you looked collecting the points you needed to get there.