"Uncertainty" is an excellent word to describe the mood around the Blue Jackets going into Wednesday night's game.
With rumors flying that Brandon Saad would be scratched as a result of his sub-par performance in the OT loss to St. Louis over the weekend, and the team preparing to play their first game without the injured Seth Jones, the lineup was shifted shortly before gametime by the announcement that Saad was in, but that Brandon Dubinsky had suffered a lower body injury and would miss the contest.
When the game began, it was a bit of deja vu to the last time these teams met in California, with the Blue Jackets putting the pressure on early and seeing their efforts pay off, with Scott Hartnell putting a shot on John Gibson, and Boone Jenner grabbing the rebound and popping it home for the early 1-0 lead.
The Ducks could not form an effective counterattack in response to the goal, and the Jackets acted a lot like the team who had bested them 4-0 in Anaheim just over a week ago, pressing the advantage and seeing it pay off when Ryan Murray broke deep into the Ducks zone and fired a pass to Saad, who had his one-timer loaded and ready to fire, blasting the puck past Gibson's shoulder for the 2-0 lead.
The second period saw the ice begin to tilt dramatically towards the visitors, with the Ducks pushing the Jackets back into their zone for long stretches of time and forcing Sergei Bobrovsky to ward off their assault.
The power play, which had been such a strength, failed to provide relief despite the Ducks providing a couple of excellent opportunities, and there was a certain feeling of inevitability when Richard Rakell tipped Cam Fowler's shot from the point to cut the lead in half late in the period.
The Jackets would hang on to their lead for the second intermission despite having to kill a late roughing penalty on Matt Calvert after he took exception to a hit on Nick Foligno from Joseph Cramarossa, but the Ducks continued their assault going into the third, and managed to tie things up on a play that can only be called incredibly good (or bad) luck.
With Sergei Bobrovsky at the side of his net, trying to put the puck off along the end boards, Nick Ritchie intercepted the pass and put it into Bob's skates as he attempted to get back into position. The puck was at just the right angle for the goaltender to kick it into his own net in the process, and suddenly the game was tied, with the Ducks looking to steal the victory out from their hosts.
To their credit, the Jackets stiffened back up, and though Anaheim still had an edge in both possession and scoring chances in the third, they kept the Ducks from finding the go-ahead goal, dragging the game into OT and securing a point despite their setbacks.
And then, as the saying goes, the magic happened.
Last weekend's goats were very much Wednesday night's heroes, as Brandon Saad and Alexander Wennberg in particular harried the Ducks in 3 on 3, leading to a beautiful sequence where Wennberg took the puck deep into his own zone before skating out and pulling the Anaheim defenders along with him, while Saad crashed the net, and Zach Werenski came in as the trailer, replacing Ryan Murray in an on the fly line change.
Wennberg put a perfect pass on the rookie's stick, and Werenski had nothing but daylight between him and the net when he bombed the game winning goal into the net, securing the Jackets' victory and extending the team's current points streak to five games running.
All in all, this was not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, and you could see Torts still feeling some frustration as he called out the 'entitlement' in the locker room that he still feels needs to be eliminated. The second period was weak, and while Savard and Werenski were a solid d-pairing in Jones' absence, Johnson and Murray remain a volatile combination at the best of times.
But it's a lot more fun to point out these issues after a victory than a loss, and despite their flaws, the team is finding a way to seize victories and steal points more and more often.
The Blue Jackets could be doing a lot worse.
The team will play the second half of their back to back in Boston tonight, and return to face St. Louis on Saturday. A victory in one of those games could put them (temporarily) in the wild card spot. Wins in both (and a little luck) might see them leapfrog Washington for third place in the Metro.
Pipe dreams? Maybe. But suddenly not so unrealistic as we might have believed...