With a season long losing streak staring them in the face, the Jackets flew down to North Carolina in search of something, anything, to snap themselves out of their skid.
What they found was a lift from some of the most unlikely sources, and recaptured the grace under pressure that had been sorely lacking of late.
Despite getting a few early bounces, the Jackets found themselves killing a 5 on 3 penalty in the first five minutes of the game, with Jared Boll boxed for hooking at the 1:40 mark, and Jan Hejda whistled for the same infraction with just over 20 seconds left in the original infraction.
Eric Staal whiffed on a slap shot, leaving the puck floating back slowly towards the neutral zone. Kris Russell jumped up, tearing into the Hurricanes' zone with Dorsett and Pahlsson trailing behind him. Faking a shot, he passed back to Dorsett as he came down into the faceoff circle for a shot, and the rebound popped off of Ward's pads and into perfect position for Samuel Pahlsson, who fired the shorthanded goal home to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead.
The other half of the story in the first period (and indeed, for the entire game) was Steve Mason, who responded to last night's loss (in which Head Coach Scott Arniel was called upon to defend his netminder in the post-game press coference) by pitching an incredible performance, stopping every shot he faced in the first period, and making some incredible acrobatic saves as he denied Jeff Skinner, Chad LaRose, and Eric Staal.
Despite getting several power play opportunities, the Jackets would not be able to extend their lead until early in the second period, when Matt Calvert forced a turnover at the boards at the edge of the Carolina zone, allowing Derek MacKenzie to seize the loose puck and jump into the zone. Rushing in on the left faceoff circle with Scottie Upshall going wide to set up a possible passing play, D-Mac decided to take the shot rather than pass off, and slammed a long slapper past Ward's blocker side shoulder.
The Jackets continued to challenge for much of the second period, including a goal mouth stuff attempt for Nash that Ward was able to get his leg out just enough to stop, but the Hurricanes would get a big momentum shift just past the 13 minute mark when Steve Mason was whistled for slashing. The PK made several good plays, but Chris Clark, back in the lineup after sitting for most of the month, took an interference penalty, putting the team down two men.
After killing the Mason minor (served by Kris Russell), the Jackets got more bad news when Derek Dorsett went off for a slash during the Clark penalty, and expressed his displeasure to the point that referee Rob Martell sent him off with an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Despite the added pressure, the Jackets held up like champions, and even managed to negate the second half of Dorsett's double minor when Grant Clitsome battled against Erik Cole for the puck and the Carolina winger grabbed Clitsome's stick to prevent him from clearing the puck down the ice.
The third period was another uneven affair, and the Hurricanes would get a spark of life when Sammy Pahlsson won a faceoff but Derek Dorsett misplayed the puck at his own blue line, allowing Cole to spring Jeff Skinner one on one with Mason, and Skinner roofed a shot from the slot to beat Mason up top.
Carolina then sacrificed the same momentum they had just gathered when Cory Stillman slammed Scottie Upshall into the boards, leaving the Jackets' agitator in distress, though he was able to return to the game later on.
After killing another minor penalty (a trip on Fedor Tyutin just before the 17 minute mark), the game seemed settled when Derek MacKenzie got his second of the night (and his first multi-goal game in the NHL), taking a long shot down the ice after Grant Clitsome poke-checked the puck to him as he cleared the slot.
Carolina, however, had other plans, with Jussi Jokinen collecting a beautiful blue line feed from Staal, sliding just past the left faceoff dot, and snapping a quick wrister past Mason with under 30 seconds left.
Despite one final rush, the Canes would come up short, unable to force extra time, while the Jackets would make their way back to Columbus with a bit more spring in their step, a franchise best 16th road win on the season, and with one more milestone for the evening - MacKenzie's first career NHL game winning goal.
Final Score: Jackets 3 - Carolina 2
- Derek MacKenzie - First multi-goal NHL game, first NHL GWG, and 10 pounds of awesome in a 5 pound sack, he was also a vital piece of the PK.
- Sammy Pahlsson - His shorthanded goal was exactly the spark the team needed.
- Steve Mason - Despite allowing the late Jokinen goal, this might have been Mason's best outing of the season. He made some truly breathtaking saves, and I believe he simply did not want to lose tonight.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Power Play - Fortunately, it didn't bite us, but it would have been nice if the Jackets could have added some insurance with a goal in one of their 5 opportunities.
- Penalties - The PK bailed the team out and gave the team a huge lift, but the Jackets can't expect to take ten penalities (including two 5-on-3s) and have a real shot to win the game. As a far, I admit I thought the refs were being...rather tight.
- The Western Conference - Columbus would be a playoff team in the East. Part of that is looking at their 10-2-3 vs Eastern conference clubs this season, and part of it is simply looking at the standings and where Columbus' current record would place them. Ah, well.
The Jackets will take a short break, then get back into action against another Eastern team when they face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena. Hope to see you there!