The seeds of victory are planted months - sometimes years - before you ever see them sprout. That's a lesson that fans of the Blue Jackets have learned all too well.
That said, things didn't start well for the Blue Jackets. In fact, they were on the wrong foot from the get-go, as the Penguins used an aggressive start to hem the forecheck back into their own defensive zone. Moving the puck with virtually no challenge, they would open the scoring when Matt Niskanen loaded up a blast from the point, which Brian Gibbons redirected past Sergei Bobrovsky from the top of the crease.
A brief burst of energy in response earned the Jackets their first power play of the night, but a bad mishandle behind the net allowed Paul Martin to spring Gibbons on a shorthanded rush, and he made Bob bite on forehand before backhanding into the open side of the net to extend the lead to 2-0 just a minute after his opening tally.
But to their credit, the Jackets skated back out knowing what they had to do.
A special hello to our fans at Nationwide Arena watching the draft. Thank you for your support, and with the 4th pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets are pleased to select from the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks, Centre Ryan Johansen.
Wanting a group that could move the puck with some confidence, Todd Richards sent out a "young guns" setup - Johansen centering Jenner and Letestu, while David Savard and Ryan Murray manned the points.
Johansen opened with a big shot that went off the side of the net, but David Savard was able to corral the puck and fire it back in. His shot hammered off the post, but the cycle moved things around without giving the Penguins' PK or Marc-Andre Fleury a chance to adjust, and this time the Johan had time and space to fire a laser beam that was in and out of the net before the Flower even knew where the shot was coming from, cutting the lead to 2-1.
For the next ten minutes, the Penguins surged, trying to get the crowd back into the game, and Sergei Bobrovsky had to be amazing. With his teammates unable to relieve the pressure, he did everything he could to keep them in the game.
Adding injury to insult, Fedor Tyutin would take a nasty hit from Tanner Glass along the boards, and went to the bench in obvious pain. He finished the first period on the bench, but would not return to the game.
Finally, it looked like things were turning when the Dubinsky line broke out and created a beautiful wrap-around scoring chance, but Dubi would get called for a slash when he retaliated against Craig Adams after the whistle, and the Jackets were back on the PK with less than three minutes to go.
The Penguins went back to the same game plan that had worked earlier in 5 on 5 play, and concentrated on keeping the PK tied up around the crease. That gave their blueliners time to find shooting lanes from the point, and in a sick little bit of deja-vu, Matt Niskanen would unload another booming shot from the point, this time finding a hole through the traffic and past Bob without any need of a deflection.
Down 3-1, the Jackets limped out of the first period having been outshot 15-4, and about the only good news aside from the power play goal was the fact that they had 40 more minutes to try and dig themselves out of this mess.
Remarkably, they came out of the tunnel in the second period and started doing just that, though it wouldn't be without a few hiccups. Playing a tighter checking game, they began to turn up the physical play. Unfortunately, in the case of Blake Comeau, he turned it up to 11, and found himself in the box after a thunderous check on Paul Martin.
With the 94th pick in the 2009 draft, Columbus selects, from the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, David Savard.
Unexpectedly, that's where things started to get good. With the Penguins rolling out four forwards and Kris Letang for their power play unit, there were holes to exploit. David Savard would poke the puck away from James Neal, giving Artem Anisimov the opportunity to pass up and out to Matt Calvert before both he and Savard joined #11 in a charge up the ice.
Calvert looked off the pass, waited almost a second too long, then fired a perfect top shelf snapper that pulled the game back within a goal, and completely deflated the Igloo. You could almost hear the whispers of "Here we go again" as Dan Bylsma called his timeout following the second shorthander allowed in as many games for his power play, and though Fleury would stay in net, the Penguins quickly shifted to putting two d-men at the points for the remainder of the penalty, and for each of their subsequent man advantages.
Despite not finding the handle for a tying goal in the second, the Jackets would push the Penguins around almost as brutally as they had been manhandled in the first, racking up 15 of their own shots on net, while allowing just eight.
That intensity continued in the third period, keeping the Penguins on their heels as tempers began to boil over. A nasty high stick on Sergei Bobrovsky by Adams sent his mask flying, and Adams to the box. The Jackets didn't convert, but had two different attempts ring off the pipe, and a crash of bodies and scrambling sticks that came one bounce away from equalizing.
It was increasingly a matter of if, not when, the game would be tied. The only question was How.
With the 127th overall selection in the 2008 NHL entry draft, the Blue Jackets select, from the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings, Matt Calvert, Left Wing.
Another hard charge to the net would lead to Brandon Dubinsky drawing a tripping call that sent Rob Scuderi to the box. Keeping calm despite the relentlessly ticking clock, the Jackets kept testing Fleury, but didn't find an edge.
What they did find, however, was another advantage late in the power play when Matt Calvert was knocked down trying to hammer in a rebound, and that would send Letang to the box for just under ten seconds of 5-on-3 power play time.
They didn't quite get it done in the five on three, but the Johansen line was instrumental in pushing the entire Penguins' PK deep and into the left side of the ice. Boone Jenner drove to the net and tried a shot that Fleury kicked away, but Johansen saw Jack Johnson drifting down at the right circle, totally uncovered, and slapped the rebound across the ice, where Mr. JMFJ had nothing but an open net to shoot at.
The tying goal came with six minutes to go in regulation, and Jack Skille nearly put the lid on it when he caught a point blank rebound in front of the net with just over a minute to play, but he couldn't settle the puck, sending his shot too high. The clock kept ticking away, and despite one last heroic rush by Columbus, we would be headed to playoff overtime. Still a franchise first, as one of my friends at the game watching party pointed out, but not quite what we had in mind.
It looked like things might get settled early when Paul Martin went to the box less than two minutes into the first overtime period, but we weren't quite that fortunate - though there was one scramble in front of the net that saw six players in front of a sprawling Fleury, his goal stick kicked to the corner of the rink, and a puck that trickled out of the pile and juuuuuuuuust wide before Joe Vitale manged to put a stick on it and send it out of danger.
Columbus fans would be treated to the same kind of clenched guts when Jack Johnson was called for a hook on Jussi Jokinen, and a drive from Letang went just past the open side of the net, and even more nerves when Blake Comeau was called for a fairly nasty hit on Brooks Orpik at the boards with just 1:30 to go in the period.
(On the one hand, the puck was loose and Orpik was in position to play it, but on the other, Comeau used a bit more than what most officials would consider reasonable force when he knocked the d-man ass over teakettle.)
With their eyes on the clock and knowing that they'd have an opportunity to regroup if they could hold on, the Columbus PK was magnificent. Getting into lanes, pressuring their assignments to the perimeter, and clearing at every opportunity, they ate up time and kept themselves alive, with just :27 seconds left to kill at the start of the second overtime period.
Hello, Columbus. I'm John H. McConnell - and I'd like to welcome you to the coolest game in town.
As the puck dropped, the penalty kill was brutally efficient, clearing it down twice to wipe away the remaining time- and in one case actually registering a shot on goal thanks to Mark Letestu going downtown right to Fleury's doorstep.
Springing from that transition and pushing the play back into the Pittsburgh end, the Dubi line was right back at it - Dubinsky took the puck behind the net and sent it to Cam Atkinson for a quick shot, and Calvert was right there to catch the rebound, shoot, catch the rebound again, and roof home his first playoff game winning goal.
He slid to the ice in celebration, and was mobbed under within moments. His teammates rushed to the ice to embrace him, while the NBC and Fox Sports cameras caught Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson exchanging a dignified high five in their box on the press level.
Good morning. I'm pleased to announce that the NHL's expansion committee, after discussion with the board of governors, have made the decision to award expansion franchises to the following cities: Atlanta, Columbus, Minneapolis-St.Paul, and Nashville.
With that goal, those long sewn seeds have begun to bloom. Suddenly, this isn't a franchise that never managed to win when it mattered. It's not a club that everyone knew would roll over. They aren't a bunch of kids with no idea what it takes to win.
They are a team who faced off against a team that's had their number all year, and took it to them in THEIR house.
They are a team that collected themselves when things went bad, and outworked one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference through sixty minutes of regulation and 22 minutes of sudden death OT.
They are being described as "gritty" and "dangerous" with a respect in the eyes of the national (and international) hockey media that this city has NEVER seen.
And with this series now tied, they are the guys who will potentially be hosting three of the five remaining games in their barn.