After a frustrating loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, the Jackets faced the Pittsburgh Penguins on the final game before the trade deadline, in what is becoming an odd tradition. (Seriously, NHL schedule makers, could we play anyone else the night before the deadline? Anyone at all? Seems like this is the third or fourth year in a row.)
After coming out hard against the Devils all night, the Jackets pushed back fairly well early in the first period - not to say that the Penguins didn't have opportunities against Curtis McElhinney, but the defense did a good job of giving him the space he needed to make the saves.
Things got nasty late in the period when Simon Despres took a run at Ryan Johansen. Even as the whistle resounded for the penalty, Nick Foligno was in his face, dropping the gloves and swinging even as the linesmen stepped in to separate them.
Annoyingly, the referees decided to call offsetting minors instead of giving Despres a major (or at least a minor for roughing to go with the boarding call), but a few seconds later Paul Martin fixed that problem when he hooked down Cam Atkinson as he skated in on Marc-Andre Fleury.
The 4 on 3 power play rolled in, and not long after they set up a cycle, Ryan Johansen found a wide open James Wisniewski as he pinched down to the faceoff circle, and the WIZBOMB delivered to open the scoring.
In the final minutes of the period, it looked like the Jackets might hang on for an early lead at the end of the period, but with just over a minute left, Evgeni Malkin threaded his way through three Columbus defenders before unleashing a quick wrister to bring things even.
Despite that frustrating score, the Jackets avoided a post-goal letdown, and were doing "OK" at the first intermission.
Unfortunately, "OK" was the exact opposite of the second period.
In the first minute of the period, Sidney Crosby broke loose for a clean shot on Curis McElhinney, but C-Mac made the save, sending the puck into the corner.
Unfortunately, James Wisniewski tried to clear the puck out of danger afterward, but put a little too much juice on his shot, sailing it over the glass for a delay of game call.
The Penguins aren't a team to give opportunities on the power play - and you absolutely don't want to give them a 5 on 3, but that's exactly what happened just thirty seconds into the kill when Fedor Tyutin got his stick up too high on Sidney Crosby.
With the Pittsburgh power play up two men, it wasn't long before they cashed in - in fact, it took them just eight seconds, thanks to David Perron cleaning up the rebound from an Evgeni Malkin shot from the high slot.
Now trailing 2-1 and still killing the Tyutin penalty, the Jackets tried to respond, but much like Game 6 last Spring, Malkin was in Beast Mode. Catching a quick pass from Kris Letang as he moved across the slot, Malkin fired a blistering shot from one knee for his second of the night.
The Jackets would get a little power play time of their own afterwards, thanks to Despres deciding to tangle up David Clarkson, but failed to make headway on Fleury, and not long after were back to killing another penalty after Alexander Wennberg put another puck over the glass. (Anyone else tired of this penalty? Everyone? Yeah.) Blessedly, the Jackets PK did successfully kill the Wennberg penalty, but when Jared Boll got yet ANOTHER delay of game call (this time for closing his hand on the puck, so that least that's something), the special teams came up short once again - this time with Derick Pouliot picking up a loose puck following Patrick Hornqvist's shot at the side of the net and hammering it home.
Blessedly, that would be the last Ptitsburgh goal for the second period, but there wasn't very much to smile about if you were a Columbus fan as the teams left the ice for the second intermission.
That lack of smiling continued in the third, when Steve Downie, known troglodyte, was left wide open in the middle of the Columbus zone, and wired a shot past C-Mac less than thirty seconds into the final frame.
It looked like things would go from bad to worse when Jack Johnson was called for crosscheck on Beau Bennett, but we got at least one good thing out of this game when Ryan Johansen won the opening faceoff of the kill, flipped the puck out of midair to himself, danced around Derick Pouliot, and blasted straight up the ice like a bat out of hell. No fancy moves, no crazy tricks, just pure blazing speed, capped off with a top shelf blast past Fleury for the shorty.
That goal gave the PK the jump they needed to kill the penalty, and fortunately gave them a bit more confidence, because they'd need it when Corey Tropp lined Simon Despres for a hard hit along the glass. Worse than Despres' hit on Johansen early in the game? Honestly, probably not. But Tropp would get the book thrown at him, receiving a major for boarding and a game misconduct - and it wouldn't shock me if he received a phone call from the Department of Player Safety tomorrow.
The Jackets survived the major, but lost valuable time that might, perhaps, have been used to try cutting their deficit. As it was, they did have one more goal in them, thanks to Nick Foligno air-mailing a shot in the final minute of play that floated past Fleury for one last spit of defiance.
It wasn't a fun night, and the team goes into tomorrow's trade deadline with far more questions than answers. Who will go? Who will be left?
What is this team really going to look like?
In the post game comments, Ryan Johansen was asked if he missed Brandon Dubinsky. His answer was perfect: "We missed six or seven guys tonight."
How many will we miss for the rest of this season? And how many are never coming back?