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Game Recap #53 : Breaking the Hex

The Blue Jackets overcame some bad luck, some bad calls and Friday the 13th itself to notch a hard-fought 4 - 3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Friday the 13th.  Legend holds that bizarre things are supposed to happen on this day, and the events at Nationwide Arena did nothing to dispel that notion.  Crazy bounces. Pucks in the stands. Inexplicable calls. Jared Boll scoring a goal. The Blue Jackets coming back from a two-goal deficit in the third period.  It all happened.  Let's see how the whole story unfolded.

Period One:  Cannon Shot

After pre-game ceremonies honoring Scott Hartnell's 1000th NHL game, the Blue Jackets were obviously pumped up. Coach Todd Richards returned to some tried and true line combinations for this one -- Hartnell-Johansen-Foligno to start, Calvert - Dubinsky - Atkinson next, followed by Skille - Wennberg -- Anisimov and Tropp -- Letestu -- Boll.  The top line came out of the gate hard, notching two shots on goal in the first 15 seconds of the game -- a pace of 480 SOG for the game.  Alas, they could not maintain it . . .   I jest.

If it were not for the truly outstanding play of Ray Emery in goal, this one would have been put away early by the home team.  They buzzed, they battled, they controlled the puck and gave the Flyers precious little breathing room -- at either end of the ice.  It was again reminiscent of the victories over St. Louis and Ottawa, with the club relying on speed and skill, using the body where appropriate, and exerting constant pressure.

Unfortunately, the only real lapse in effort came over about a six minute stretch in the middle of the first period.  Perhaps frustrated that their pressure and speed had not yet borne fruit, the Blue Jackets lost just a bit of an edge.  At the 10:33 mark of the first, Jack Johnson carried the puck into the offensive zone at the right point, and shoveled the puck ahead to Hartnell.  Hartnell took the puck a bit deeper, then sent a backhand behind him, in the air, to nobody in particular.  Matt Read picked up the puck and came hard down the boards.  James Wisniewski and Artem Anisimov challenged Read in the neutral zone, but had no defensive help in the middle, as Columbus was caught in a defensive change.  Read lobbed the puck to Wayne Simmonds, who outraced the on-coming Kevin Connauton and Anisimov to the net, where he parked a backhand behind Curtis McElhinney.   McElhinney appeared unsure of what posture to take, and got caught in a bad position -- halfway back in the crease, not square to the shooter.  1 - 0 Flyers, with Read earning the lone assist.

Columbus regained its form over the final third of the initial stanza, but still could not find a way to solve Emery, who has taken over the starting duties while Steve Mason recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery for an injury he sustained during a time-out last week.  Yep. A time out.  It seemed to be shaping up as another one of those games where the Blue Jackets outplayed the opposition, but came up short on the scoreboard.  They outshot the Flyers 11 - 7 for the period, and optically were the better and faster team.  All of that effort would have to be rewarded in the 2nd.  Right?

Period Two:  Getting Closer

The second period saw a reprise of the Blue Jackets' performance in the opening frame. They skated, carried the puck into the zone, provided support in their own zone and in general looked like a complete team.  Again, however, Emery was the there to dampen the Columbus spirits.  He made spectacular saves on Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno -- in no particular order -- and the assembled crowd of 16,403 was wondering when and how the club might catch a break.

The crack in the armor came at the 8:09 mark of the period. Philadelphia turned the puck over high in their zone as they tried to move out.  Kevin Connauton grabbed the puck, moved down the left wing, and fired a centering pass to the crease, where Brandon Dubinsky had found clear ice.  Dubinsky kept his stick on the ice and deflected the puck over Emery, who had no chance.  Tie game, and the Friday the 13th spell appeared to be broken.   Or was it?

With 2:13 left in the period, Wayne Simmonds again brought the puck into the Blue Jackets' zone, trying to maneuver past Connauton and drive toward the net.  Connauton maintained just enough position to force Simmonds wide, but Simmonds still managed to put a one-handed shot toward the side of the net.  McElhinney missed the effort, which clanged off the side of the post and up in the air.  Sean Couturier was crashing the crease, and batted the puck out of the air, off the front of the right post.  That puck caromed off of James Wisniewski's chest, and Couturier again whacked the puck out of the air as his body moved below the goal line, and behind McElhinney.   It was called a goal on the ice, with the officials also seemingly missing Couturier's high stick to Wisniewski's face in the process. The Toronto review could not conclusively establish that his stick was above the crossbar when he made contact.  A bizarre goal on a bizarre night, but it was 2 -1 Flyers, with Simmonds getting the lone helper.  A bizarre To be fair, Simmonds was a beast all night, and was a constant irritant to McElhinney.  At one point in the second, he crashed the crease, fell on top of McElhinney, but drew no interference call.

The Blue Jackets kept up the pressure through the end of the period, but again could not beat Emery, despite again outshooting Philadelphia 11- 8  for the period.  That left them a goal down entering the final period, a situation from which the Blue Jackets had not recovered thus far in the season.  Entering this contest, they were 0 - 20 - 0 when trailing after two.  It seemed an unlikely night to break the hex, but hope springs eternal.

Period Three:  Friday the What?

Unbeknownst to most of the crowd, Cam Atkinson had been whistled for a holding penalty at the closing horn in the second period, so the Blue Jackets started on the penalty kill.  This was not only killed -- it was destroyed.  The puck spent the majority of the two minutes in the Philadelphia zone, due to the incessant pressure from Foligno, Anisimov and Calvert, among others.

When play resumed at even strength, so did the Columbus pressure.  However, with just 4:32 gone in the period, Corey Tropp was whistled for goaltender interference. It was a play where Tropp and the defender battled to the edge of the crease, but Emery actually stepped forward, out of the blue paint, to initiate contact.  It was a relatively minor collision, compared with the Simmonds/McElhinney encounter in the 2nd, but arm went up here, to the very vocal displeasure of the crowd.  This time, it took the Flyers only 32 seconds to cash in, as Claude Giroux fired a shot from the left circle that McElhinney saved, but surrendered a big rebound directly in front, where Simmonds was camped.  Simmonds parked it in the net, with Jakub Voracek gaining the second assist.  3 - 1 Flyers, and the mood in Nationwide was befitting a Friday the 13th.  To make matters worse, McElhinney was very slow to get up after Simmonds' second tally, and though he stayed in the game, seemed to struggle for the balance of the contest.

Fortunately, the Blue Jackets did not resign themselves to a 21st consecutive loss when trailing after two.  The impetus would come from the unlikeliest of sources.  At the 8:38 mark, Columbus reprised their first goal, with Corey Tropp playing the role of Kevin Connauton, and Jared Boll standing in for Dubinsky.  Tropp was just a bit lower in the zone, and was circling from low to high, when he fired a centering pass to the crease, where Boll deflected it home. Mark Letestu had the second helper.  It was Boll's first goal since 2013, and it could not have come at a better time.  Now it was a one-goal game, with more than half the period remaining.  Could it happen?

It took another seven minutes of pressure, but the affirmative answer came at 15:20.  David Savard caromed a pass off the side boards to Atkinson at the blue line, who carried it into the zone with speed, with Dubinsky in the middle and Hartnell to his left.  Atkinson nudged the puck to Dubinsky, who found Hartnell with a step on his defender.  Hartnell tipped the puck for what seemed like a certain goal.  However, true to form, Emery had come across and managed to get a pad on the puck.  He couldn't prevent the rebound, however, and Atkinson followed up on the play, backhanding the puck home for the tie.  What seemed implausible just a few minutes earlier had become reality.

The oddness was not over, however.  Kevin Connauton was whistled for a phantom interference call at the 16:18 mark, and the Blue Jackets once again had to kill a penalty with the game on the line.  They managed to do that, and then again exerted some pressure of their own. With time winding down, Matt Calvert was blatantly held, hooked and otherwise manhandled as he went after the puck in the offensive zone, but drew no call.  Still, the club had managed to erase a two -goal deficit and take the game into extra time.

OT:  Simple Vindication

It had been a while since the Blue Jackets had played an overtime contest on home ice, and the early moments were a bit ragged.  They soon found their stride however, after allowing the Flyers what would be their only shot of the extra stanza.  At the 2:17 mark, Nick Foligno took the puck hard to the blue line, chipped it past the defender, and raced to gain control of the puck deep behind the goal line to Emery's left.  He spotted Wisniewski up high, and put the puck in a perfect spot for a Wisniewski one-timer.  Emery made the save, but Artem Anisimov was right in front.  His initial effort was stymied, but he maintained his composure, collected the rebound, moved to the backhand, and bounced the puck into the back of the net.  The "trailing after two" hex was broken, two points were in hand, and the crowd was going berserk.  Claude Giroux went a bit berserk himself, shattering his stick and flinging it across the ice.

Epilogue & Fun Facts

This was a total team victory and one that used a little bit of the entire team repertoire.  Speed and skill created many of the opportunities, but that good old net-front presence cashed in three of the four goals.  Everyone contributed to this one, from top to bottom.  Dubinsky played his finest game of the season, and finally seems to be back from this injury.  Seeing Anisimov get the game winner was poetic justice, as he has been playing some great hockey, despite obviously being somewhat limited by his triceps injury.  He provides that calm, all-around, puck handling presence that is the perfect complement to Foligno, and gives a defense much to think about.

By breaking the hex, the Blue Jackets are no longer the worst team in the NHL when trailing after two.  Buffalo is just 1-for-27 in that category, but two clubs have yet to win a game when trailing after two.  Winnipeg has failed to do it 15 times. The other club -- which is 0-10-3 when trailing after 40 minutes?  Wait for it  . . . . the Pittsburgh Penguins.  You'll win some money with that trivia question.

As they head to their plane on this Friday the 13th, the Philadelphia Flyers might consider hiring their own exorcist to cast out their own spell.  This was the sixth consecutive home victory for the Blue Jackets agains the Flyers, who have not won in Columbus since December 13, 2005.   No, that wasn't a Friday . . .it was a Tuesday.  Still, it's pretty spooky.  A five game road trip begins tomorrow.  Stay tuned.