2. Control, ascendancy
3. The Columbus Blue Jackets on February 22nd, 2011.
For two periods, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets played to a virtual stalemate. The intensity was high, and both teams played a hard, physical game as they attempted to find a way to win in the increasingly tight Western conference race. Pekka Rinne stopped 17 shots, including point blank chances by Matt Calvert and Jake Voracek, and barely managed to make a toe save on an Umberger breakaway.
Steve Mason stopped 17 shots, including an incredible diving stop on Jordin Tootoo's backhand attempt, and a great glove save against Steve Sullivan.
The words "playoff atmosphere" came from just about everyone watching or listening to the game - there was a certain crackle - an electric current burning from the players, but neither side could find the edge.
Then the third period started, and everything changed.
It's not really a secret that as Rick Nash goes, so go the Jackets. So perhaps it's fitting that a just over a minute into the third period, Nash kicked things into high gear. Grabbing a loose puck at center ice, he curled around the Nashville D, then looped his way into the zone and drove down the far boards before dragging the entire on-ice Nashville contingent behind him across the zone, attacking Rinne at the side of the crease, catching his own rebound off Rinne's leg pads, and slamming it home to get the boys on the board 1-0.
Three minutes later, with Shane O'Brien in the box for a roughing call, another one of the Jackets' "Heart & Soul" players stepped up - Matt Calvert cheated behind the net as Pekka Rinne played the puck behind his crease, jumped on it, and lunged for the open net, depositing it for the power play goal before the Finnish netminder could pull himself back into the net.
With a 2-0 lead and a building suddenly roaring with energy, the Jackets began to pour on the pressure, controlling the puck almost exclusively (the Predators would only get three shots on net against Mason all period), and it was only a matter of time before they found the back of the net again.
Midway through the period, Jake Voracek battled against Cody Franson for the puck, slid a pass to Grant Clitsome at the blue line, who worked it down to Kris Russell at the left boards, then a quick bullet of a pass opened up Antoine Vermette at the goal line, and he popped it home for the 3-0 lead.
The Predators tried to take advantage when Clitsome was called for a kneeing penalty, but before the Refs could blow the whistle, David Legwand high-sticked Derek Dorsett behind his own net, drawing away the potential momentum, and the 4-on-4 period was still dominated by the Jackets' relentless attack, though Marc Methot had a bit of a no-brainer with one iffy pass in front of his own net, but fortunately the Preds were unable to take advantage.
With just over two minutes to go, Jordin Tootoo decided to tell Jared Boll that he'd be waiting for him on Sunday, delivering a couple of nasty cross-checks before lunging at the Columbus scrapper and dropping his gloves.
Both fighters put some serious damage out, and I'd call it one of the more intense fights I've seen this year, but I'll give Boll the nod, slightly, though much respect for Tootoo coming out and really wanting to make his presence felt after his return from the NHL's substance abuse program.
With both combatants on the way to the dressing room, the Jackets were given another power play thanks to Tootoo's additional minor, and it would be Nash who delivered the final nail in the Predator's coffin tonight, though it would actually be his linemates doing most of the work. Starting with a long stretch pass from Fedor Tyutin in his own zone out to Jake Voracek, the Jackets broke into the zone, and Jake unloaded a beautiful tic-tac-toe pass from the faceoff circle to Vermette, who then flipped it behind his back in a drop for Nash, and the captain hit the one-timer perfectly, top shelf on the stick side.
When the dust settled, Steve Mason had his second shutout against the Predators this season, the Jackets had more goals (4) in the period than Nashville had shots (3), and the Jackets had pulled themselves to within 2 points of a playoff spot.
Final Score - Jackets 4 - Predators 0
- Steve Mason - His stop on Tootoo in the second period was probably the game changer. It was the huge, impossible seeming save that screamed "WE ARE NOT LOSING THIS!" to the entire team. I talked in the preview about how Mase ups his game for the Preds, and tonight was a perfect example.
- Rick Nash - First goal, last goal, and perhaps the best statement of the night in the post-game: "This isn't enough." It's not enough to just win. It's not enough to keep this streak going. There's a fire burning in him that only postseason victories is going to quench, and I look forward to seeing the results.
- Matt Calvert - His first power play goal in the NHL was just as huge as his first breakaway goal last week. He also had a great spin-o-rama move that was just barely stopped by Rinne late in the third. Calvert is stepping up big on the second line, and he's continuing to make things happen on the ice.
- Kris Russell - Two big assists tonight, including that beautiful pass to Vermette. Welcome back, Kris. We missed you!
- John P. McConnell - After the win, JPMac was down in the locker room giving bro-hugs and congratulating the players on the win. Nice to hear about.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Justin Bourne - C'mon, saying that Rick Nash should demand to be traded out of Columbus just so you can see him on TV more? You make me sad, sir. Love your writing, but you make me sad.
The Jackets will have the next two days off before facing the red hot Phoenix Coyotes on Friday - it'll be another battle of Juggernauts, with the Jackets riding a 9 game point streak compared to the Yotes' eight game win streak, extended today with an OT win against Philly.
Tickets are still out there...with as well as the team has played this month, maybe we should fix that, and give the boys a proper salute / sendoff before they go out on the road through the start of March with a nice rowdy sellout crowd.