With the Ottawa Senators waiting for them at Nationwide, the Jackets flew back to Columbus looking to put a final 2 points into 2010, while setting a strong tone for 2011, and for just less than two periods, they did so quite well.
But then, the fatigue of playing back to back games in Canada and the US began to sink in...
From the start of Leo Welsh's performance of the national anthems for both nations, Nationwide was loud and proud for the boys in union blue - though more than a few people deciding to start their New Year's Eve drinking before the game likely helped.
With the building not quite sold out (the official attendance was over 17,700, so within ~400 of capacity - not bad at all), it was a very Columbus-centric crowd, thankfully, and the team gave them a lot to cheer about early.
Putting heavy pressure on Brian Elliot in the first five minutes of the game, the Jackets drew early power play chances, killed off an early penalty to Chris Clark by Derek Dorsett drawing a huge neutralizing call on a shorthanded breakaway, then took the lead just past the midway point of the first period when Jake Voracek and Fedor Tyutin broke out of their own zone following an Erik Karlsson shot that Steve Mason kicked back into the top of the zone, raced down the ice, and made a beautiful cross-ice feed to a waiting R.J. Umberger, who fired it past Brian Elliott into the open net.
Though the Senators would outshoot the Jackets for the remainder of the period, the Jackets kept finding ways to break up passes, hustle to the puck, and get in deep to frustrate Ottawa's defense, ending the period with a 1-0 lead.
Despite some scary moments in the early second period where mistakes and miscues nearly cost them the lead, the Jackets would get a much needed spark when Brian Lee delivered a nasty headshot to Derek MacKenzie, and rather than wait for the wheel of justice to get involved, Derek Dorsett went after Lee like a guided missile, dropping the gloves and jackhammering the Senators' d-man to the ice in five furious seconds.
While I am sure Scott Arniel was not thrilled about giving up a power play opportunity due to Dorsett being issued a roughing minor to go with the matching fighting majors, I suspect he was quite pleased at how Dorse stood up for his teammate - that's something I think the locker room needed to see, and I bet that it does just a little more to tie the team together, as Puck Daddy's Justin Bourne once described.
Steve Mason made some excellent stops on Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, and the Jackets bent, but did not break. If there was a warning sign, it was that the Sens seemed to be dictating more of the pace as the period went on, but that also allowed the Jackets to find opportunities - first from Chris Clark diving to grab a turnover, then poking it to Samuel Pahlsson, who wristed the puck past Elliott for the 2-0 lead.
Then, a few minutes later, it would be time for Rick Nash to put his stamp on the game, with Antoine Vermette springing Nash and Huselius on a 2-on-1 break. Juice took the puck deep, then dished off to Nash almost a second too late, but Nash was able to settle the puck and toss the backhander over Elliott and into the back corner of the net for the Chili goal.
Despite Ottawa's outshooting and outhitting the Jackets, they seemed in a good position to dominate the period on the scoreboard once again, but in the final minute of the period, Steve Mason took a Sergei Gonchar point shot, could not freeze the rebound, and Ethan Moreau and Chris Clark were unable to clear the rebound away from the slot, and Mike Fisher took a shot from the top of the circles that found its' way past the traffic, beating Mason to give Ottawa a bit of a lift at the end of the second period.
Worse, in the third period, the Jackets fatigue was clearly setting in, and the energized Sens jumped on it, taking advantage of several early miscues by Jake Voracek and Anton Stralman to spring Nick Foglino and Brad Winchester on a breakaway. Kris Russell tried to defend, but went down to block the pass a little too early, and Winchester was able to set up Foglino for the easy shot to pull the Sens within 1.
To Steve Mason's credit, he made some huge saves in the remaining third period (and also had a couple lucky bounces where shots rang off the post), but the Jackets' continuing energy drain kept them from being able to find a way to consistently get the puck out of trouble, and when Ottawa pulled Elliot for the extra attacker with under a minute and a half left, the Jackets' top line was caught unable to get control before Milan Michalek took a shot that squirted out into the crease, and both Kristian Huselius and Rusty Klesla failed to put a stick on the puck before Daniel Alfredsson would come back to tie the game late, sending it to OT.
In the OT, not surprisingly, the Sens had the early momentum, but Steve Mason was able to make a game-saving stop late on Peter Regin, kicking the puck away and allowing Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek to get the puck up ice.
Brassard attempted a shot that was fought off by Elliot, but Brass and Jake continued to battle for the puck before Jake was able to get it off the boards and went straight to the net, stuffing it through Elliott's legs to win the game in OT and causing the entire team to leap off the bench to slam into the boards with him in celebration as the crowd cheered their hearts out.
Final Score: Jackets 4 - Senators 3 (OT)
- Jake Voracek - Even before his game winner, Jake had a pretty solid game today, and really showed hustle around the puck. I'm not going to say the scratch "fixed" him until we see this kind of effort for a few games in a row...but it's a very positive start.
- Steve Mason - None of the Ottawa goals were really "soft" ones - and he really needed his defense to do a better job of clearing pucks tonight. But I don't think anyone would argue that Mason made several game saving stops tonight, but in denying Ottawa a tying goal earlier in the third period that might have given then a push, and a couple of huge saves in OT.
- The Clark Line - The Chris Clark / Sammy Pahlsson / Ethan Moreau line, outside of one bad play in the second period that lead to the first Ottawa goal, did a fantastic job tonight breaking up the Sens' offense and contributing offensively. They may have been our best line on the ice tonight.
- That Dude On The Jumbotron - After getting his girlfriend to simulate an act that shares initials with the Blue Jackets during the "New Year's Eve Kiss Cam", he may have finally convinced the game ops to kill the stupid Kiss Cam for 2011. I salute you, sir.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- The Third Period - Boy, that stunk. Tired legs or not, it was just a sloppy performance, particularly the forecheck, which seemed to disappear. On the plus side, that's the first time I've really felt that fatigue was a huge factor in a game, so clearly Kevin Collins is doing something right on the conditioning side.
- Power Play - 0/4 tonight, including on a relatively late PP after Nash was hauled down in the third that might have provided a much-needed insurance goal. Ottawa's PK is very good (7th in the league), but still...
- Rusty Klesla - I'm not sure why, but Rusty just didn't seem that sharp tonight, and he was one of the D who did the worst job of getting the puck out of trouble after Mason made saves tonight. Maybe another scratch isn't such a bad idea...
For about three hours, the Jackets were back in 8th place in the Western Conference last night, but Anaheim's win over Philly just barely edged them down into 9th. That said, I far prefer "right on the edge and riding a win streak" to end 2010 over "dropping over the cliff with no end in sight" ala 2009.
It was a game that could have gotten away from them - and damn near did - but it was a game that the Blue Jackets found a way to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, and that seems like as good an omen for the new year as any.
The Jackets begin a month spent quite frequently on the road with a trip to Nashville on Sunday, where they will open 2011 with a game against the Predators. The puck drops at 6pm from Bridgestone Arena.