With an early goal and a late first period power play goal, things certainly got off to a great start for the Blue Jackets as they looked to keep making up ground in the Western Conference, but unfortunately, that's where their troubles began...
With both teams playing the night before, the Jackets seemed to have an early edge in energy, feeding off a smaller but fairly vocal home crowd. After killing an early (somewhat iffy) roughing call against Derick Brassard, the Jackets turned up the pressure on Antti Niemi, peppering him with shots, while Steve Mason made some good, routine saves on San Jose's rare opportunities.
A bit past 8 minutes into the period, Dany Heatley would be whistled for interference, and the Jackets would get their first man advantage of the night.
Even better, they'd cash in late in the penalty, with R.J. Umberger coming down the left side, sending his shot wide, then Anton Stralman collecting the loose puck and feeding Kristian Huselius, who fired a quick wrist shot that banged past a screening Umberger to slip through Niemi's legs for the 1-0 lead.
Heartened by the goal, the Jackets kept up the pressure, and finally drew another penalty late in the period when Ben Eager was sent off for a cross check.
In the dying seconds of the period, Grant Clitsome would get some, unloading a brutal slapper from just above the top of the left faceoff circle that smoked into the net with just under 9 seconds to go in the period.
Outshooting the Sharks 16-6 and leading 2-0 on the scoreboard, things seemed to be heading in the right direction, but the Sharks appeared to gather themselves during the first intermission, and swam back into the game with a vengance.
Less than two minutes into the second frame, Joe Pavelski would dig the puck out from behind the Jackets' net and feed it up to Kent Huskins, then slide back to screen the crease, taking Kris Russell with him in an attempt to cover the versatile winger that may have made it more difficult for his own netminder, before the blueliner fired a long shot that got past Mason, cutting the lead in half.
Despite both teams getting power play advantages, it would end up being the Sharks who took the next advantage on a fluky play around the Jackets' net late in the second frame - Logan Couture would come down, driving for the net, take one shot that Mason was able to kick out with his pads, the rebound would go to Ryan Clowe, who shot and rang the puck off the post, and as Mason tried to slide back into position, Kyle Wellwood would scoop up the rebound and pop it into the open side of the net for the tying goal.
With the Jackets starting to show signs of fatigue, the Sharks did just what we noted they tend to do - owned the second period, outshooting Columbus 17-12.
In the critical third period, the both sides began to look tired, but the Sharks had a bit of extra life thanks to their comeback, and the Jackets lost a key part of their energy when Derek Dorsett took a nasty elbow to the face and was knocked to his back, sliding painfully into the boards. Unable to stand right away, it was a quiet, scary moment as the training staff came to attend him, and he was eventually able to make it off the ice under his own power, but immediately went to the locker room for observation.
(In the post game, Dorsett was available to talk to the media, and said he was "OK now", but that he'd certainly had his bell rung. "I didn't know where I was for a few minutes." Given Dorsett's previous brushes with a concussion, don't be surprised if the team keeps him out Friday to make sure he is symptom free.)
Deprived of a key energy forward, the Jackets actually put up quite an attack on the Shark net, firing 16 shots for a total of 44 in the game, but Antti Niemi had an answer for every attempt, and with a little less than five minutes left to play, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski were able to play a bit of pitch and catch with the puck behind the Jackets' net, keeping Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger from breaking up the play before Marleau took a sharp angle shot from just above the goal line that poked its' way past Mason's glove side to break the tie.
The Jackets would attempt to get the game back in their hands, pulling Steve Mason with a little over two minutes left in the game, but neither side would find the back of the net again, leaving a frustrated Jackets' squad to see a game they'd clearly had a chance to win slip away.
Final Score: Sharks 3 - Jackets 2
- Grant Clitsome - After a little bit of a dry spell, the Clitter got himself back on the board with a big goal.
- Kristian Huselius - Juice continues to stay on a scoring streak since his benching last week.
- Steve Mason - Yes, really. None of the goals that got past him were softies, and he made some big saves to try to keep the Jackets in this game, including a couple of odd man rush stops on Heatley and Marleau in the first and second periods. Mason needed some help from his D tonight, and they really didn't come through.
- Kristian Huselius / R.J. Umberger / Antoine Vermette - Even though they opened up the scoring, the second line really struggled defensively, and had a couple of opportunities to break up the Sharks scoring opportunities, but couldn't handle the puck.
- Rick Nash - On a night where the team hammers Niemi for 44 shots, you could only manage 2? Especially once Dorsett went down, this was a night where we really needed Nash to take over the game, and unfortunately he wasn't able to.
- Refs - Questionable calls on Derrick "The Ruffian" Brassard aside, the elbow that took Dorsett out of the game should have been called. It wasn't Douglas Murray's intention to slam him into the boards, I am sure, but that elbow was still a dirty play.
I'd go so far as to call this a 7 game playoff series - it just happens to be against five different teams. It all starts Friday, when the Jackets take on the Avalanche at home. The puck drops at 7pm.