"[The emotion ramped up] when we landed in Columbus on Wednesday. It was a lot of fun. But I'm definitely glad that it's over." --Rick Nash, after tonight's game.
With all of the hoopla surrounding Rick Nash's return to Nationwide, it could have been easy to lose the significance of this game in the standings. When announced as a starter, Nash was booed lustily. However, at the first media timeout, the CBJ video board showed a tribute video, and a nice standing ovation was heard.
But, that was the end of it for Nash in terms of fan support. "It was boos right from when I grabbed the puck," Nash said afterward. "I still love the Columbus fans. I stay true to what I say. I appreciate that, because they're passionate; they love their hockey. I wouldn't expect anything less."
Suffice it to say that the feeling is probably a lot less mutual than it was 24 hours ago. Things got, well, they got crazy.
The Jackets certainly came out with some heavy legs, as the Rangers drove most of the play early on. It seemed to take Columbus the first 10 or 12 minutes to really get going, but some big hits and a fight seemed to help. Early on, however, it was the Rangers who would have the best chances.
Right off the opening, the Rangers got a golden chance when the line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Martin St. Louis were buzzing and their speed clearly caught Columbus flat-footed. After a nice zone entry and some crisp passing, they just missed on a cross-ice feed right in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.
Columbus looked a bit jumpy and like they were fighting the puck for the first half of the period, but little by little they worked their way back into the game. 3:48 in, Cam Atkinson worked with Matt Calvert to get the puck deep. Cam wrapped around the net and hit Brandon Dubinsky in the slot all alone, but Henrik Lundqvist was equal to the task.
Columbus would also get the first chance on the Power Play, as Ryan McDonagh would go off for a high stick on Artem Anisimov at the 8:09 mark. But, just like last night, the Jackets' Power Play left a lot to be desired. They did get one solid chance with Nikita Nikitin blasting a one-timer from the right point, but the puck would wing Boone Jenner in the leg in front of the net and carom out of play.
What really seemed to get the Jackets going was a big hit by Blake Comeau on John Moore deep in the Rangers' defensive zone. Benoit Pouliot and Derek MacKenzie would exchange pleasantries and end up in fisticuffs, with neither party really landing any big shots. The series would give the Jackets life, and the line of Ryan Johansen, Jenner, and Nathan Horton would control play in the Rangers zone for a solid stretch with about seven minutes left.
The period would end, however, with the Jackets' PK having to stand tall. Horton was called for roughing behind the Rangers net, continuing a bad trend of penalties 200 feet away from home; on the delay, the Jackets were almost burned by a Derek Dorsett shot off the crossbar and a near-miss on a rebound by Dominic Moore. Despite a solid kill for most of the penalty, Fedor Tyutin would make matters worse by cross-checking Zuccarello with 19 seconds left in Horton's penalty. But the PK and Bobrovsky were up to the task, ending the period with a clean sheet and just 27 seconds left to kill in the second.
End of 1st Period - 0-0 tie
The period started with some solid PK from the Jackets, and they certainly had their legs early. The teams traded chances, but it was an exchange that happened late that would define the period. Let's cut to the chase.
With three minutes to go, Rick Nash made his way to the Jackets' blue line unchecked, and a home run pass sprung him for a breakaway. He collided with Bobrovsky and the puck trickled into the net, but the referee immediately waved it off. As Nash stood up and went to the crease to retrieve his stick, Bob picked it up with his own stick, and fired it away from Nash.
Nash responded in what was probably the most uncharacteristic move from him that I can remember. He shoved Bob with both hands, and to call what broke out next anything other than pure bedlam would be an understatement. It evolved into almost a line brawl of sorts, and the highlight from my view was seeing Dalton Prout literally grab and throw a Ranger by the back of the jersey out of the scrum and off to the side.
"I got two whacks [from Bobrovsky] in the first period," Nash said afterward, "and then I go to pick up my stick and he flings it away. You gotta own up when you do something like that. I did the same thing. I pushed him, and I had to own up to my end of it."
After all was said and done, the Nationwide crowd had completely turned on Nash--if there was any goodwill left, that is--and the boos cascaded from the rafters to the foundation. The no-goal call survived Toronto review, and Nash, Chris Kreider, and Artem Anisimov all went to the sin bin with roughing minors.
The CBJ Power Play was uneventful, with the Rangers probably getting the best chance overall on the PP. The period would end deadlocked at zero still, with the Rangers holding a huge advantage on the shot board at 26-15.
End of 2nd Period - 0-0 tie
If the last three minutes of the second were nuts, the first two minutes of the third tried their best to match. Right from the drop of the puck, it was clear that the 20 minute intermission did nothing to cool anyone's jets. Nash and Matt Calvert became tangled up off the draw, with Nash on the ice holding Calvert's stick. After freeing his stick, Calvert gave Nash a small cross-check, and then another fight broke out, as the two went at it. Nash's reach advantage was the difference, as he was able to deliver some shots to the face. But, Matty Ice got Nash to the ground. They both got matching two-minute roughing calls and five for fighting.
"He took a cheap shot on our goalie, and we didn't get a chance to respond because the linesman jumped in," said Calvert. "One of our guys on the ice would have responded. He had to pay for what he did. It was a gutless move. I'm glad [the fight] happened. You want to put things behind you at times, but we stick up for each other. That was our chance, and I thought I'd take it."
When asked what set him off, Nash responded: "Probably the two cross-checks to the head, the slew foot, and the fact that he said he was going with me no matter what, he doesn't care. That's enough to set me off."
OK, then. No love lost.
After the teams had spent several minutes trading punches, they traded bad defensive plays in the second minute of the period. On a forecheck, a Rangers defender sent the puck to Nick Foligno literally all by himself in the high slot. He curled, fired, and beat Lundqvist to the high blocker side. The building erupted.
1-0 Jackets - Nick Foligno (18th) at 1:12 (unassisted) - EV
But, before the din could even die down, the Rangers tied it, as they got the puck deep, executed a great feed to the slot with a screen on Bobrovsky, and Derek Stepan buried an easy one-timer to tie it up.
1-1 tie - Derek Stepan (14th) at 1:56 from Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman - EV
The teams traded chances, but it was an old lightning rod that would all but seal the deal. Anton Stralman won a board battle and sent the puck deep behind the Jackets' net where Derick Brassard was waiting to corral it. He curled around and bounced the puck in off of Bobrovsky's back to make it 2-1.
2-1 Rangers - Derick Brassard (16th) at 11:31 from Anton Stralman and Mats Zuccarello - EV
The Jackets were plagued by near-misses tonight. Foligno beat Lundqvist to the stick side once off a feed from the corner, only to see the puck sit on the post and then trickle across the crease. The goal horn even sounded, though the puck never made it in.
The Jenner--Johansen--Horton line was solid later in the period, with a nice feed from Horton to Jenner in front, who then fed it into the crease between his legs, but the Rangers were there to clear.
Finally, with the net empty, the Rangers won another board battle and Carl Hagelin fired the puck into the open cage from the neutral zone.
3-1 Rangers - Carl Hagelin (17th) at 19:21 from Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal - EV/EN
Final Score - 3-1 Rangers
- The Crowd - you guys get top billing. When Foligno scored, the building was rocking. The crowd was into it from the jump, and with the Nash histrionics it only got crazier. Bravo, Columbus.
- Matt Calvert - I thought he played decently, and being willing to go at one of your old teammates like he did to stand up for Bobrovsky showed heart.
- Goalie Bob - This game could have been ugly without him, and with the sudden disappearance of the Jackets' offense. Bob stopped 30 of 32 tonight.
Bottom of the Barrel
- Rick Nash - Wow, dude. I don't know what happened to Nasher, but that was not the guy I remember. Yes, Bob poked his stick away, but Nash didn't exactly pull up while crashing the net, either. The two-handed shove was... well, I was surprised. If ever there was any goodwill after the trade, it's all gone now. Every trip to Columbus is going to be a circus for the next season or two, methinks.
- The Power Play - Anyone seen it? Just abysmal again tonight, with no real direction or purpose. "I think we went in with a decent game plan," Todd Richards said afterward. "I thought the first two periods we played hard, but we didn't have a lot of energy. We didn't have a lot of juice that we've been playing with. I thought our guys were fighting, trying to do things, but the Rangers came with some pressure. They were playing fast, and we weren't able to handle it or execute because of it."
- Shots - I'm not ever going to be one of those people that yell "SHOOT!!" all the time, because it's ridiculous. That said, the team seems hesitant to shoot at times, and it allows the defense to close up lanes on them. I don't remember the Jackets struggling so much to generate offense as they did tonight.