When you've been in a slump like the Blue Jackets, sometimes even the smallest victories look like mountains against the swamps of frustration.
Each small victory, from there, creates others.
Tonight, where the Blue Jackets took an early lead, lost it, and then found the way to win? That's one hell of a mountain the Jackets suddenly find themselves atop.
With the Jackets in their third Jerseys, the Wings had to find tonight a bit of deja vu - the first game in Columbus in November started similarly, with the Jackets testing Jimmy Howard early with a flurry of shots.
Tonight, however, took a slightly different script when Rick Nash corralled a puck in the neutral zone and rushed down the right side of the ice, drawing the Detroit defense to him, and taking a quick shot that bounced behind the net and hit the stick of Jakub Voracek as he came down the ice, behind the defense, and popped it up and behind Howard for an early 1-0 lead.
Seven minutes later, the Jackets drew a pair of penalties, first Jiri Hudler for tripping, and then Jonathan Ericsson for high sticking. Late in the 5-on-3 advantage, Kristian Huselius took the puck deep and cycled to a waiting Fedor Tyutin near the blue line, who made a quick pass across the top of the zone to Grant Clitsome, who was already flexing his stick in preparation for a monster slap shot that made its' way through traffic, bounced off Howard's shoulder, and hit the top glove side corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
A minute later, and Howard took a shot off his right knee from Derick Brassard, band was unable to get back up. Eventually helped off the ice by Detroit's trainers, he was later announced as having a bruised knee.
Off the bench came Joey MacDonald, recently brought back from Grand Rapids due to Chris Osgood's sports hernia.
Within minutes, MacDonald signaled that he came to play, pokechecking the puck away from R.J. Umberger on a shorthanded breakaway, and later stoning Rick Nash on a chance late in the first period.
The Jackets would be up 2-0 at the end of 1, but it was clear the goaltending change had given the Wings some confidence.
To make matters worse for the Jackets, after getting a power play early in the second frame for a nasty Henrik Zetterberg hit to the head of Antoine Vermette, the Jackets would get caught looking as a long rebound went off MacDonald and bounced to the Detroit blue line, where Drew Miller would take the puck up ice. Beating his way around both Kris Russell and Fedor Tyutin, he'd go all the way to the net, where Steve Mason was unable to take away the 5 hole in time, leading to the fourth shorthanded goal the Jackets have given up in the last four games.
A few minutes later, the Wings would tie the game when a Valteri Fippula shot rebounded off Mason and into the high slot, where Jiri Hudler was able to grab the puck and fire it in before Mason could get up from his butterfly to stop it.
Despite going down to a tie game in the second period, the Jackets rebounded in the third - while the offense wasn't much to write home about, though they did have some good chances, including a Jared Boll breakaway that MacDonald had to lay his entire body out to stop, they limited the Red Wings to only 9 shots on goal in the third period, and held their ground, denying the Wings good shooting lanes, while Steve Mason sharpened up his rebound control, either trapping the puck or sending it up and away from trouble.
Despite a power play that would last into the first minute and a half of OT, the Jackets could not convert (though Howard again made some big saves, including a lightning quick glove on Antoine Vermette), and the Wings were denied on their sole shot of the OT by Mason, leading the game into that most uncomfortable of territory: The Shootout.
Rick Nash would shoot first for Columbus, and deked his way in, but went a bit too deep into his move, losing an edge and unable to shoot before falling on top of MacDonald, while Jiri Hudler would shoot wide for the Wings.
Kyle Wilson would come in, and had Howard beat on a quick wrist move, but his shot rang off the iron, and Todd Bertuzzi attempted to simply steamroll his way in, but shot wide.
Kristian Huselius went wide, came back, and attempted to go 5 hole, but while the puck did get through MacDonald's legs, it bounced off his skate and went just wide of the net, while Henrik Zetterberg missed high on his attempt.
Scoreless after three, Scott Arniel sent Antoine Vermette in for the first of his sudden death shooters. 'Twan went to work with a vengeance, going in sharply, with a bit of stickhandling before he tucked it between MacDonald's legs - the Detroit goaltender didn't even seem to realize he'd been shot on until the goal horn went off.
Mike Babcock would attempt to answer with Johan Franzen, but Steve Mason filled the net and kept tall in his crease, and when Franzen finally attempted a stuff move at the side of the net, Mase simply directed the puck away with his stick as the sellout crowd went wild.
Final Score: Jackets 3 - Red Wings 2 (SO)
- Grant Clitsome - His textbook point shot on the PP was exactly what the team needed - I really like the way he's responded so far in his second cup of coffee with the Jackets, and he's showing a willingness to get in and get involved.
- R.J. Umberger / Jared Boll - Both played hard tonight, and both had some incredible breakaway moves - only the fact that Joey MacDonald was playing out of his mind tonight kept them off the boards, but they deserve recognition for their hustle.
- Steve Mason - After two goals that weren't terrible, but also could have been seen as a little soft, Mason had a gut check, and apparently it came up positive. Mase stopped the remaining 18 shots he faced, and looked as cool and in control in the shootout as I can ever remember seeing him. Tonight was a huge performance and exactly what the team needed.
- Blue Jackets Fans' - The fans who put money on the board tonight raised $5,327 for charity with tonight's win. That's as impressive as it is incredible. You are awesome, and you honor this city and this team.
In an even more special moment., R.J. Umberger announced after the win that the players made a decision to match the money raised by the fans tonight. That means over $10,000 is going to charity today. My god, I can't even describe how amazing that is, and how proud I am to be part of the CBJ fan community.
On a "World's tiniest violin" note, Tomas Holmstrom left the game in the third period for the Wings with what has been announced as a broken hand. I feel bad for the guy, but I really have a hard time feeling sympathy for a team that Columbus really could use some more wins against this season...and it will start tomorrow night, from Joe Louis Arena, in the second game of the home and home series.