After a frustrating loss to Boston the night before, it was not shocking that the Blue Jackets made the decision to start Curtis McElhinney and to give Sergei Bobrovsky a night to recover before their upcoming Western Canada trip.
What is slightly surprising is that the slumping Montreal Canadiens decided to start their own backup, Peter Budaj, which speaks volumes for how the Jackets are currently perceived.
Despite heavy legs and facing a fresh Montreal squad, the Jackets did a good job of meeting the Canadiens' skill with tough, physical play through the balance of the first period, and were finally rewarded three quarters of the way through the opening frame after stopping a fervent attempt by one of the league's best power plays.
Cycling the puck through the Montreal zone, James Wisniewski, Nick Foligno, and R.J. Umberger had several passes between them as they attempted to find shooting lanes through a swarming defense. Umby would carry the puck low against the boards in an attempt to make some room, and fired the puck towards the the net in what was likely an attempt to create a rebound for Michael Chaput.
Finally getting a bit of the elusive "puck luck" that this club has needed so badly, the shot would slip past Chaput and a defending Tomas Plekanec before sliding through Budaj's legs and into the net for Umberger's fourth of the season, and a 1-0 lead.
Energized by the goal, the Jackets went on the attack, and found themselves receiving a bit more good fortune when Nikita Nikitin attempted a hard slap shot, but missed his shot and became unbalanced, falling to the ice.
At the same moment, Douglas Murray would knock Jared Boll's legs out from him in front of the crease, sending him to the ice in front of Peter Budaj, and the referee's arm went up for what would have been a tripping call against the visitors.
Instead...things got a little weird.
In one of those odd, split second sequences that demands a replay, several unlikely things happened at once.
First, Budaj tripped as he attempted to get back up after colliding with Boll, essentially leaving a wide open net as he lost track of the puck.
Second, Artem Anisimov went for the loose puck while being pressured from behind, and ended up taking an odd shot that looked more like he was using a pitching wedge than a golf club.
Finally, the puck suddenly landed in the back of the net.
Initially it was suspected that the puck had landed near Boll or Sean Collins, who was also going to the net, who then whacked it in, but after review it was determined that AA's chip shot went up in a perfect arc, slipping past everyone's notice. Nine times out of ten that shot would have enough power to send it into the netting or harmlessly out of play, but this time, perhaps because of Anisimov having to make a desperate attempt on the loose puck, it had the perfect amount of gentle loft to descend right past Budaj and land in the goal.
The crowd was energized by the two goal lead, but unfortunately the Jackets were not the only team who could generate a bit of luck.
With Brandon Prust and Jack Johnson in the box due to a frank exchange of views, the teams were 4-on-4 in the final minute of the first period. With under fifteen seconds to go, Fedor Tyutin bobbled the puck at his own blue line, and Alex Galchenyuk would steal for a breakaway against C-Mac, driving to the net and scoring with just over seven seconds left before intermission.
After giving up such a frustrating goal, it's not surprising the Jackets came out with a bit less steam in the second, but their all too frequent second period slump lead to the Canadiens dominating the period in all senses of the word, keeping Columbus from registering a shot on goal for almost 14 minutes, and drawing the game even. With Cam Atkinson in the box after hooking Andrei Markov, the Montreal power play drew the Jackets low into the zone. Getting the puck on net thanks to a Markov point shot, Daniel Briere would take one whack that McElhinney was able to stop, but Lars Eller was waiting at the side of the crease for a rebound, and pounced on it before any of the defenders could clear him away.
If anything, the third period was even uglier, though neither team would make a change to the score sheet.
Montreal continued to pressure, looking for an advantage, and found themselves on another power play after Nick Foligno was called for a hit to the head of Galchenyuk.
After looking at the hit, it started as a clean hit against the Body, but Galchenyuk had begun to lean down as he worked the puck, too late for Foligno to avoid contact. This opinion was apparently shared by the officials, who issued a minor penalty but did not offer any further punishment.
Surviving the PK, the Jackets would end up with a power play of their own later in the period after Foligno drew a holding call on P.K. Subban, but could not find any answers, and this game would go to Overtime after C-Mac stopped 38 of 40 Montreal shots, while Budaj had seen a mere 21 from the home squad.
Columbus came out looking to change that in the final frame, attacking from the drop of the puck, and nearly ending it in the first minute when Jack Johnson went hard to the net and beat Budaj, but hit the iron rather than the net. Brandon Dubinsky would have a pair of chances, including one that Budaj had to make a desperation save on, and late in OT Nikita Nikitin would unleash a powerful blast that Budaj barely kept out of the net, falling backwards and desperately trying to keep his glove hand from crossing the line.
The game would go to the shootout, and both netminders continued their strong play, with Mark Letestu and Galchenyuk both being denied on their attempts.
Artem Anisimov attempted his usual backhand shelf move, but Budaj has apparently watched enough film to be ready for it, whil David Desharnais simply plowed to the net and scored as much through pure force of will as anything else.
Ryan Johansen attempted a similar approach to keep the game alive, but could not break Budaj's concentration, and the Jackets would be left with a point - the fourth game in a row, in fact, where they collected at least a point, but had to be feeling that there was money left on the table.
Final Score - Canadiens 3 - Jackets 2 (SO)
- Curtis McElhinney - Hung out to dry, frankly, for most of the second and third periods, C-Mac just kept his cool and did everything humanly possible to keep this team alive, including some heroic saves late in regulation.
- James Wisniewski - Wiz got his shots on net and helped create the opening goal. The current points leader for the squad, he also leads NHL defensemen in scoring on home ice.
- Blake Comeau - Comeau was playing an energized, physical game all night, and was probably one of the club's best players in this game, including a team leading four shots on goal.
- Lady Luck - The Jackets felt the benefit of some very fortunate bounces, but couldn't quite make that edge last.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Fedor Tyutin - Between bad penalties, bad puck decisions, and an incredibly costly turnover in (yet again) the dying seconds of a period, this was not a good night for #51.
- Cam Atkinson - For the second night in a row, Cam made some poor decisions, particularly the hook that lead to the tying power play goal, and spend most of tonight falling over his own skates. Cam needs new skates or more practice honing them, because it seemed like he was tripping himself up more than he was touching the puck.
- Finish - The Jackets had their chances in this game, and it took bizarre, fluky bounces to get the puck into the net. Everyone on this team seems snakebitten for the last few days.
After just enough time to pack a suitcase and grab a toothbrush, the Jackets will be off on their Canadian road trip, starting with an afternoon matinee against the Senators on Sunday.
The club has a four game points streak, which isn't to be sneezed at, especially when you consider it means they've put together five points after breaking their frustrating skid. If that had come from, say, two wins and an OT or shootout loss, we'd probably be in a better collective mood, but I'd rather see the team play a bit haphazardly and at least take something home for their trouble than look good and leave empty handed.