After a painful performance in New Jersey on Thursday night - particularly in the area of special teams - the Blue Jackets needed an opportunity to get themselves back on track, and fortunately the Florida Panthers had come to town.
While I don't want to say that Panthers should be taken lightly - and this game proved that they really shouldn't - they're certainly a team that the Blue Jackets need to beat if they want to push into the postseason. When you're 12 points up on a team in the standings, it should be expected that you take care of buisness.
In the first period, they certainly didn't disappoint.
Swarming Scott Clemmensen in the Panthers' net from the drop of the puck, the Jackets had worked themselves into a 6-1 shot advantage before Nick Foligno finally drew the first power play of the game. The team had practiced special teams fairly heavily, and it showed, keeping possession and spreading the defense out. Finally, with the second unit rotating in, James Wisniewski moved to the half wall before firing a shot on net, where R.J. Umberger was camped out and waiting to capitalize on the loose puck for the 1-0 lead.
Just a few minutes later, James Wisniewski would surprise everyone by discovering that Scott Gomez was still playing in the NHL, accidentally getting tripped up by the...um...veteran... and drawing another power play for the Jackets.
This time, Columbus' special teams would look for an opportunity to beat Clemmensen, but in the dying seconds of the power play, Brandon Dubinsky would win an offensive zone faceoff back to Jack Johnson, who sent the puck over to David Savard.
Captain Caveman lined up and fired a shot that appeared to have beaten Clemmensen cleanly, but after video review it was determined that Cam Atkinson had deflected the puck on the way in.
Regardless, the Jackets had a solid lead and were now 2-2 on the man advantage, but unfortunately they wouldn't be able to hold a clean sheet through the entire period.
James Wisniewski attempted to make a breakout pass from his blue line, but Shawn Matthias would intercept the puck and reverse back into the Columbus zone, cutting past Wiz into the crease and tucking the a shot up under the crossbar to cut the Jackets lead to a 2-1 advantage, which they'd take into the second period.
Unfortunately, that wouldn't last, and again a defensive miscue was to blame. Ryan Murray would first attempt to fire a shot in on Clemmensen, but the puck would get caught in Boone Jenner's skates. Shawn Matthias would send the puck up the ice, and though Murray attempted to get back, Nick Bjugstad would poke check it past him before driving in on Sergei Bobrovsky and tying the game.
Things were looking up, however, when Erik Gudbranson went to the box for a crosscheck on Artem Anisimov, and the power play went back to work.
Once again, David Savard was involved in making it happen, but this time he'd be the recipent of a setup rather than setting the table for someone else. Working his way down after taking the puck from Nathan Horton at the point, Savard would thread past three of the Panthers' penalty killers before popping a nice backhander into the net.
The power play was now 3 for 3, but unfortunately the afternoon wasn't quite in hand yet.
Even as Greg Murray was announcing the power play goal, the Panthers struck back, breaking into the zone and setting themselves up for a quick shot on net. Tom Gilbert sent the puck into the crease, and Sean Bergenheim was ready to tap it home, tying the game up once again to the grumbling of more than a few home fans - particularly considering that the Jackets held a 22-12 lead on the shot clock.
After a fairly blunt altercation between Derek MacKenzie and Dimitri Kulikov that sent Florida to the power play late in the period, but as it turns out that's exactly what the Blue Jackets needed.
After Brandon Dubinsky had a near-miss on a shorthanded opportunity, he'd continue to harry the Panthers, finally getting the puck away and hammering it in on net.
Clemmensen played the puck back to Marcel Goc behind the net, but Artem Anisimov was streaking into the zone and anticipated a pass coming over to Jonathan Huberdeau. Beating the former 2011 first round pick off the puck, Artie was all alone on the ice, with nothing to do but score. The shorthanded goal would be his 15th of the year, and the second he's scored shorthanded this season.
That 4-3 lead held through the third period, despite attempts from both sides to change the tune, but it would come down to the final minutes before things changed.
With Clemmensen sent to the bench for an extra attacker, the Florida net was wide open, and Nick Foligno happily air-mailed a nice shot home to give the Jackets a 5-3 lead.
Surprisingly, the Panthers decided to keep Clemmensen on the bench, perhaps hoping to get another quick counter-attack on Bob, but the Jackets wouldn't allow the Panthers to pull the same trick twice. Isolating the puck and countering, Mark Letestu kicked the puck out to Matt Calvert, and after getting some space into the offensive zone, it was a nice easy shot to put away the second empty net goal of the night.
Final Score: Jackets 6 - Panthers 3
- Special Teams - Even though the Jackets had more than a few miscues today, their power play and penalty kill were exceptional. The three power play goals would be a pretty impressive night, but that shorty was like buttah. Speaking of?
- Artem Anisimov - Arty needed a game like this after a fairly lackluster Olympics and a rough performance against Jersey. He still took a somewhat iffy penalty, but found what he needed to change the momentum of this game.
- Nikita Nikitin - Nikki didn't figure on the scoresheet, but every time he needed to make a play on defense, it happened. One of his best defensive performances of the season.
- David Savard - Captain Caveman was in a much higher gear today, and it paid off.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Sergei Bobrovsky - Love Bob, but this wasn't a good night for him. He had some good saves when we needed him - particuarly late in the second after Arty's goal - but he had some miscues, particularly on the Bergeheim goal.
- Derek MacKenzie - I understand the attempt to shift the momentum by challenging Kulikov, but it easily could have backfired.
- A Milk Carton With a Picture of Marian Gaborik - Have you seen this former All-Star?
It wasn't pretty, particularly in the second period, but they don't ask if the win was pretty when they give you two points.
The Jackets keep pace in the race to the playoffs, and will get the opportunity to duck out of Columbus before snowpocalpyse kicks off to go take on the Leafs on Monday.
2 down. 22 to go.