The Blue Jackets had their own season-ending plans of their own, and spoiled the party on Long Island in the process. In case you didn't hear, the New York Islanders were wrapping up regular season hockey in Nassau Coliseum and the fans were raucous on Saturday night.
Word came late in the afternoon that Curtis McElhinney would get the final start in net, giving Bob a rest after his work over the last month. Ryan Murray was given the night off as well, a "precaution" even though he's "healthy." Kevin Connauton drew back in the lineup. The Jackets came in looking to cap off a remarkable stretch run while the Islanders were fighting for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Islanders came out flying, seemingly buoyed by the crazed crowd. There was a physical edge from the start, and it showed with a wild opening 20 minutes. There were half a dozen roughing minors, a four-minute high stick, and a fight. The Isles had several good scoring chances, including a pair of breakaways that McElhinney stopped. Both teams found some church music as well. The home team piled up a 20-10 shot advantage in the first, but the road team would find the back of the net first.
At 19:38, Casey Cizikas was called for hooking Alexander Wennberg. The Jackets would strike 12 seconds later with just 10 seconds remaining the periods. Ryan Johansen spun away from a defender and circled behind the net. David Savard was up from the point into the faceoff dot to the left of Halak. Johansen fed him and Savard ripped a shot on net. Boone Jenner collected the rebound and fed the puck to the left to an open Atkinson. Cam deposited the puck in the net for the 1-0 lead. They were largely outplayed, but the Jackets went into the break up on the Islanders.
The penalties slowed in the 2nd period, with the teams trading power plays, the Jackets getting one early and the Islanders having an opportunity late. In the middle, the Islanders would find a way to tie it.
The Jackets had a particularly rough defensive shift with several missed passes and turnovers. Late in that shift, Nikolay Kumlemin dumped the puck behind the net. The puck hopped over Dalton Prout's stick and Josh Bailed picked it up. He whipped it out in front of the net and Kyle Okposo buried it past McElhinney.
The wild ride really picked up in the 3rd period. Less than three minutes in, the home team would send their fans into a frenzy. Tyler Kennedy was down low in the corner when he feathered a pass to the right point. Nick Leddy ripped a shot which McElhinney was able to stop, but Eric Boulton was there to slam home the rebound to make it 2-1 Isles.
With the momentum now in hand, the Islanders struck less than a minute later. Kyle Okposo and John Tavares combined for some magic as Okposo skated the puck behind the net from McElhinney's left to right. He found Tavares waiting in the faceoff dot and Tavares ripped the one-timer past the goalie to give New York a 3-1 lead.
The crowd was going crazy, and the Jackets could have easily packed it in and gotten out of town. But that's not this team, right? Of course not.
Just before the midway point of the period, the Jackets got one of the more fluky goals you'll ever see. Kevin Connauton rimmed the puck around the boards. Brandon Dubinsky picked it up immediately behind the net. Dubi threw a backhand pass, looking for a teammate out front. Instead, the puck hit Josh Bailey's skate and then caromed in off Halak's left skate. Everyone was caught off guard as Dubinsky celebrated, making it a 3-2 game.
Less than two minutes later, the Islanders were called for a delayed penalty when Alexander Wennberg ripped a one-timer wide of an open net. No matter, Wennberg stayed where he was in the left faceoff circle and calmly took a slick feed from Marko Dano from the other side of the ice. Wennberg didn't miss this time as he found the open net to tie the game at three.
The Jackets seemingly had the momentum, so of course it would make sense the Islanders would strike next. At 15:36, less than five minutes after the Wennberg goal, the home team would get back on the board. Nikolay Kulemin and Johan Tavares entered the zone with speed. Kulemin came in on the left side, and left the puck for Tavares between his legs. Tavares ripped a shot which McElhinney stopped, but Kulemin went to the net and cleaned up the rebound. The crowd was roaring now, with the Islanders up 4-3 and just minutes away from capping off the win.
With 1:35 left in the period, McEhlhinney made his way to the bench. Scott Hartnell came off the bench as the extra attacker and immediately took a feed in the middle of the ice from Artem Anisimov. Hartnell absolutely ripped a one-timer past Halak. The back and forth 3rd ended in a 4-4 tie.
As is usually the case, overtime was fairly wide open. Both teams piled up five shots, but could net find the game-winner. To the shootout we went.
John Tavares started off the scoring in the opening round, making over half a dozen dekes. He had just enough space to finish it off on his forehand as McElhinney bit on the backhand. The Islanders would not find the back of the net again.
Mark Letestu was denied on his attempt, and then Ryan Johansen nearly scored for the CBJ. It went to review, but the entire puck did not cross the line. It was another variation of the "slow down and wait" move he's perfected this season, but he came up an inch short.
In the 3rd round, needing a goal, Alex Wennberg performed his own "slow it down" move, throwing in a few dekes back and forth before ripping a shot past Halak to tie up the shootout.
After Cal Clutterbuck missed, Cam Atkinson ended the season on a high note. It was his usual wheeling-and-dealing array of moves before going backhand to forehand. Halak bit early and left the net open. Cam buried it to cap off perhaps the most remarkable stretch of games in Jackets history.
-Curtis McElhinney. Just. Wow. 48 saves. Left out to dry on numerous breakaways, and he stopped them all. Had a few goals where he just had no chance, but he also shut it down in the shootout after the Tavares attempt. Kudos to CMac if that was his last game for Columbus.
-This team. This season. Unbelievable run, fellas.
-Brandon Dubinsky. Last FOUR lower teeth on that high-stick in the first. Came back to score a goal in the 3rd and was involved physically throughout the net.
Bottom of the Barrel
-500+ man games. Ridiculous.
-The overall play was sloppy at times, with lots of turnovers and way too many breakaways for the Isles.
-The "centers" struggled in the faceoff dot, none above .500. Todd Richards went to Boone Jenner, Marko Dano, and Nick Foligno to try to make it up for it. They all went over .500.
That will do it for the regular season. The Jackets set a franchise record with a 13-game point streak, going 12-0-1 down the stretch. Since Bob threw his stick in Carolina? 15-1-1. The team went 23-15-3 on the road. The 42 wins are the 2nd most behind last season. The 89 points are the 3rd most ever behind the two playoff seasons. The power play was a franchise high 21.7%, good for 5th in the league this season. They went 9-2 in shootouts (!!) and scored 227 goals.
There was a lot to like over the last month, perhaps what this team can be without 7+ regulars out on a nicely basis. The team sits 8th in the draft lottery, with a 6.0% chance of landing Connor McDavid. There is a 77% chance they stay at 8th and a 17% chance they will drop to 9th, should a team 9-14 win the lottery.
There were plenty of franchise records this season, but ultimately the goal of the playoffs never came to fruition. A long offseason awaits, where Jarmo and JD have plenty of options, but also a really solid core of guys coming back. There are decisions to be made with Matt Calvert, Mark Letestu, Cody Goloubef, and a handful of others. They will have a top first round pick, and three second rounders. It should be interesting to watch.
Keep it locked here at The Cannon for your offseason news and discussion. We will be recapping this season in the coming week before looking ahead to the draft, free agency, trades, and then prospects camp. The draft lottery drawing is on April 18th. Feed your hunger for CBJ hockey and visit back here this summer!
That is a wrap on the 2014-2015 season. As Nick Foligno said on Friday night, we are disappointed the playoffs aren't in the picture this spring, but let's go get the Cup next year!