Aside from pride, there was nothing on the line for either team this evening.
Don't tell that to the Jackets though, who have been the league's hottest team over the past month, and they continued that hot play in a dominant win over the Maple Leafs.
It was clear early on that the Jackets were going to set the pace. They came close to opening the scoring five minutes into the game when after some beauty passing, the puck beat Toronto starter James Reimer but deflected off the skate of Tyler Bozak and out of harm's way.
Though the Jackets dominated play to start the game, it wasn't until the 13:51 mark of the first period that they were able to solve Reimer. With the Leafs hemmed in their zone, a shot from the point was redirected to the corner by Reimer, where it was picked up by Nick Foligno. Foligno fed the puck to Brandon Dubinsky in the slot, who with his back to the net slid the puck to a streaking Artem Anisimov, who made no mistake in wiring a wrister past Reimer.
1-0 Jackets: Artem Anisimov - Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno
Moments later the Jackets came close to going up by two, when Marko Dano sent a harmless shot on-net, and the puck eluded Reimer, landing on his right leg. As Reimer moved laterally, the puck slid off the back of his leg, stopping dead on the goal line. The net was crashed leading to a funny moment where Ryan Johansen stomped over bodies to get to Nazem Kadri, before being intercepted by a linesman. The play was reviewed, and correctly called no-goal.
Soon after the Jackets would in fact earn the two-goal lead, with Boone Jenner winning a battle in the corner before sending the puck to Johansen behind the net. Johansen first fed Cam Atkinson for a try, before regaining the puck and sending another pass out front, where this time Jenner was there to wire a shot into the net.
2-0 Jackets: Boone Jenner - Ryan Johansen, Jack Johnson
With 3:33 left, Justin Falk was sent to the box for hooking. The Leafs would not capitalize. I'm totally fine as a fan seeing Falk get some late-season action. He's auditioning for a new contract, and whether or not it's with the Jackets it's great to see him out there.
Just as the penalty expired, Dano collected the puck deep in the Columbus zone, and took off up the right wing. Scott Hartnell was waiting for him at the opposite blueline, and Dano fired a sharp pass cross-ice to Hartnell, who wristed the puck into the net for his 27th goal of the year.
3-0 Jackets: Scott Hartnell - Marko Dano
I don't need to tell you how great Hartnell has been for the Jackets, and being the old goat on the kid line has been nothing but fun to watch since the trio was assembled.
The Leafs showed a bit of jump to start the second period, but Sergei Bobrovsky slammed the door shut, making some terrific saves to maintain the three goal lead. Bob was in the zone tonight, looking Vezina-esque.
Jenner came close to scoring his second goal of the game shortly after, skating in on a breakaway after receiving a beauty saucer pass from Johansen. Eric Brewer was forced to hook Jenner just as he was getting his shot off, leading to a Columbus powerplay.
It didn't take long for the Jackets to capitalize. After a faceoff win, Dubinsky fed the puck back to Ryan Murray at the point, who launched a wrister on-net, fooling Reimer. It didn't help that Reimer's defenseman was screening him. Welcome back, Murray!
4-0 Jackets: Ryan Murray - Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell
The goal was Murray's first of the season, in just his 11th game. He was terrific tonight: not only did he score a powerplay goal, but he was blocking shots and making steady plays all night. Not sure what "poise" is? Watch Murray play hockey. That's poise.
The Murray goal chased Reimer from the game, who was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.
A too-much-man penalty for the Jackets didn't result in any damage, nor did an Alexander Wennberg tripping call later in the period.
The Jackets played keep-away, to the delight of the crowd, for the remainder of the period, and even the fourth line got into the act. After some great work behind the net, Jeremy Morin skated from low to high, sending a shot from far out on-net, beating Bernier.
5-0 Jackets: Jeremy Morin - Mark Letestu, Cody Goloubef
Finally, the Jackets have a fourth line! The unit of Morin, Letestu and Matt Calvert was great tonight. They made the most of their shifts, scored a goal, and Letestu and Calvert serve as a PK duo. This is the mark of a good team. With all due respect to Corey Tropp and Jared Boll, there just isn't enough contribution from the fourth line when they are in the lineup.
The Jackets would get a powerplay early in the third period after former Jacket Tim Erixon tackled Wennberg as the latter entered the Toronto zone. The Jackets would not score. I feel for Erixon, as he's now playing for his fifth NHL team. I hope he can plant roots in Toronto, because in the right situation he can be a good NHLer.
The Leafs had some offensive chances in the middle of the third period, but Bobrovsky slammed the door shut (and was a bit lucky at times).
A Foligno tripping penalty gave the Leafs a chance to break the goose egg, but a shorthanded chance by the Letestu/Calvert duo was the best chance for either team.
With about six minutes left David Booth came oh-so-close to giving the Leafs their first goal of the game, as he beat Bob but not the post. His followup attempt was stopped by a the shaft of Bob's stick.
The Jackets dictated play for the rest of regulation.
FINAL SCORE: 5-0 Jackets
- Bob, man. He earned his shutout with some big saves, when tested.
- Ryan Murray looked like he hadn't skipped a beat. As mentioned earlier, he scored, he was blocking shots, and his play went a long way in reminding fans of just how special he is. It's games like this why I am so vehemently against the notion of "resting" him down the stretch. Players need to play, and even in a meaningless game this will serve as a confidence boost for him.
- The Jackets had goals from every line tonight. Scoring depth is a must for any successful team.
- There aren't many things to criticize in a 5-0 win, but at the end of the game I caught an incident as the players were leaving the bench to celebrate. As Atkinson was leaping over the boards, it seemed as though he jammed his wrist on Johansen's skate. The camera quickly switched to the ice, but it seemed as though Cam was in some pain. This could turn out to be nothing, but if it comes out tomorrow that Cam has an upper-body injury, we'll know why.