Even before the team left on their Western Canada road trip, you could be forgiven for expecting tonight's game to be a rough one. After all, the game against the Canucks would be the middle match of three games in four nights, against a team who drubbed the Blue Jackets 5-0 earlier in the season, and Rogers Arena has been...unkind...to the Jackets in recent years.
The first period didn't do much to change that impression. Thankfully, Sergei Bobrovsky was on his game, because the Canucks hit the ice like a Ministry concert - fast, loud, and relentless.
The Jackets had some decent opportunities to counterattack early, but by the midway point of the first period, the ice was distinctly tilted - and the Canucks were delivering some pretty major hits, to boot. They clearly hoped to overwhelm a team that had just played a marathon game the night before, and the plan came quite close to working.
Things started to get heated after Alexandre Burrows took the first of what would be several runs at Bob, cutting through the goal crease and knocking his mask askew, but referee Tim Peel and his crew (working shorthanded after linesman Brad Kovachik took a puck to the head) didn't judge the collision to be worthy of a penalty.
Bobrovsky seemed a bit shaken up, but after a trip to the bench during the following TV timeout, he seemed to get his bearings and locked the crease down for the remainder of the period, keeping the sheet clean despite Columbus being outshot 20-10.
To their credit, the Jackets went into the locker room, made some adjustments, and finally seemed to start skating as they came out for the second period, giving Eddie Lack some real work to deal with, particularly on a Ryan Johansen wraparound attempt that Rene Bourque attempted to punch home.
In spite of that, though, things would break in favor of the home team when Mark Letestu bobbled an outlet pass from Jack Johnson, putting the puck right onto the stick of Bo Horvat, who turned and fired, beating Bobrovsky to open the scoring.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the Sedin Twins hit the ice for their next shift after the goal, and after a flurry of activity around the net, Daniel Sedin caught the rebound of a shot from his brother and squeezed it through the gap between Bob's pads and the side of the net.
Initially the goal was waved off by Peel because it appeared the puck had gone through the side netting, but video review made it clear that it was a good goal, and I have no doubt that more than a few fans back in Ohio decided that maybe it was worth going to bed after all.
That's a shame, really, because they missed all the fun.
The next goal was absolutely critical - if Vancouver had extended their lead, it would be easy to imagine them putting the hammer down en route to another painful shutout - while Columbus needed a spark to get the bench moving.
They arguably found that spark when former Jacket Derek Dorsett started going after Scott Hartnell, and though Hartnell refused to let the agitator take him off of his game, Corey Tropp came in to demonstrate his intent, dropping the gloves and engaging in a fierce little bout that would see both taken off the ice for fighting, and Dorsett later escorted back into the dressing room to have his punchin' hand examined.
Call it a momentum swing from the fight, or just the team finding their feet, but the Jackets started to really press from that point on, and it wasn't long before that effort got rewarded.
Ryan Johansen would get things going by breaking out of his own zone, realizing he didn't have support for a break in, and waiting at the blue line to give his teammates a chance to come in. Once Rene Bourque was in place to cut into the zone, Johansen served up a beauty of a pass, and Bourque fired low, beating Lack for his second goal as a Jacket.
Not to be outdone by his all star teammate, a few minutes later Nick Foligno got to show off a few of his own dangling skills, moving the puck along the boards and through several defenders before sending a perfect pass along the end boards to Artem Anisimov, who spotted Marko Dano setting up for a one-timer after coming off the bench to join the play. One quick pass and a hard snapper from the slot later, the game was tied, and the Columbus bench was clearly feeding off the energy.
That same line would have a big impact again late in the period, when Anisimov drew the Blue Jackets only power play of the night, sending Yannick Weber to the box for a hook.
Credit where credit is due - the first PP unit did a nice job of moving the puck, and the combination of Jack Johnson and Mark Letestu at the points worked really well tonight, keeping the pressure on and preventing the Canucks from clearing them out. Once he found a good lane, Letestu wound up and fired a blast that Cam Atkinson got his stick on to re-direct past Lack, and suddenly Columbus had gone from being in a fairly deep hole to having taken the lead with three unanswered goals to finish out the second period.
The shots gap was closing too - with an 11-8 advantage for the period, the shot clock now read 28-21: A pretty respectable improvement.
Both teams likely had words in the locker room, likely ranging from "What the *@%( was that?!" to "OK, let's do this." This was still a "winnable" game for either side.
The Jackets made it clear that they had plans to lock things down when they came out for the third, including a nice shot by Cam Atkinson that would catch the pipe, but it wasn't long before they had pushed Vancouver back into their defensive zone, and "Goat line 2.0" was going hard after the puck. Alexander Wennberg would pick Alexander Edler's pocket and take a shot that went off Lack's leg, but Dano managed to get the puck and tuck it away from an insanely sharp angle, giving the Jackets a 4-2 lead.
The boo birds started to come out for the home team after that, and they only increased a few minutes later when Scott Hartnell and Dano were out to cause trouble once again. Busting up ice on a 2-on-1 thanks to a nice stretch pass by David Savard, it seemed like Hartnell wanted Dano to take the shot for his first NHL hat trick, but instead the young Slovak waited for Lack to commit on his shot, then threaded a picture perfect pass over to Hartnell for the easy goal.
Unsurprisingly, that would mark the end of the night for Mr. Lack in goal, and to give Jacob Markstrom a bit of credit, he didn't allow another goal...but when Willie Desjardins decided to pull his netminder with a little more than five minutes to go, Alexander Wennberg was perfectly happy to get the puck and slam it into the empty net to mail the lid shut on that particular coffin.
Though pretty much everyone who was still awake was rooting for Dano to get the hat trick, it was not to be - but we can be comforted by the sound of the boos raining down from the Rogers Arena stands, filling us with dreams of sweet, sweet schadenfreude.
The Jackets aren't quite done yet, though. The team flies to Calgary tonight, and will take on the Flames Saturday afternoon in a 4:00pm (Eastern Daylight Time) matinee game.
After finding a way to steal a shootout win, then roaring back from a 2-0 deficit to blow the doors off the barn, it'll be interesting to see what the boys in Union Blue do next.