The Blue Jackets returned home from a successful road trip to entertain the Dallas Stars — the club that the Blue Jackets shut out 3 - 0 to start that trip. An intimate crowd of 10,141 was there to greet them, depleted by the conflict with Game 6 of the World Series. Those that remained to the end were rewarded with one of the most dramatic finishes in Blue Jackets history.
Anyone not in a coma for the past two weeks knew that Dallas was going to come out firing in this one. Coach Lindy Ruff was upset at his team's "flatter than flat" performance in Dallas, and there was no question that Seguin, Spezza & Co. were going to have the legs moving. Well, the Blue Jackets did not get the memo, as they came out comatose in the first. Dallas set up camp in the Columbus zone, and zipped merrily around the crease, putting shots on net at a brisk pace, while the Blue Jackets watched with appreciation as Sergei Bobrovsky stopped everything that came at him.
At the 7:09 mark, with his club not having registered a shot on goal, the captain took matters into his own hands. Nick Foligno converted a fairly standard dust-up with Antoine Roussel — no stranger to the penalty box — into a full-fledged fight, with Foligno winning a unanimous decision. Although the trade of Roussel for Foligno was probably not a fair one, the message was sent to his squad, though it still took another full minute before the first shot found the blue paint.
Josh Anderson complicated matters by taking a slashing penalty at the 8:30 mark, but the penalty kill unit was as effective as ever, negating the power play while allowing only two shots. At 14:05, Foligno performed one of his patented puck possession sequences in the corner of the offensive zone, ultimately frustrating Gemel Smith to the point that a holding penalty was his only recourse. Unfortunately, Columbus managed only a single shot in the ensuing power play.
When the dust cleared at the end of the period, Dallas had put 18 shots on goal, with Columbus managing just nine. This one could have easily been a 3 - 0 score in favor of the bad guys, but Bobrovsky came to the rescue . . . again. However, with the Stars on pace for a 54 SOG evening, things could not be allowed to continue in this fashion.
Apparently John Tortorella shared the sentiment, as the Blue Jackets came out as if their hair was on fire. By the 3:16 mark of the period, Columbus had registered five shots on goal and had missed on another attempt, while the Stars had but a single shot. Again, it was Foligno time. After Brandon Saad nabbed a turnover below Niemi's net, Foligno nudged the puck along the wall Werenski at the point. Foligno then eased into a soft spot in the zone, and Werenski found him on the tape. A quick snap shot found the upper corner, and the Blue Jackets had a 1 - 0 lead, with Werenski and Saad earning the helpers. Given the way Dallas had dominated the first period, it had to be particularly galling for them to look up at the scoreboard and realize that they had gone more than 83 minutes without scoring against the Blue Jackets.
However, the equalizer came soon enough. At 8:12, Boone Jenner took an obvious and silly slashing penalty in the middle of the ice. The penalty kill came to the rescue, however, and kept the Stars largely at bay. With five seconds left in the extra man situation, Jason Spezza took the puck at his own blue line, and made a beeline into the offensive zone. His speed caught the Blue Jackets flat footed, including Ryan Murray, playing his first game since recovering from an upper body injury. Spezza let loose with a wicked wrister from the right circle, and it found that perfect spot in the short side high corner. It's easy to say that Bob should have had it, but in reality he never had a chance — it was simply too fast and too perfectly placed. Sometimes you have to just tip your cap to the opposition, and this was one of those times. The goal came one second after the power play expired, with Oduya and Johns picking up the assists.
The goal appeared to energize the Stars, who narrowed the shooting gap for the period, and kept the pressure on, despite failing to cash in on a William Karlsson holding the stick penalty with 3:52 left in the period. Shots ended up 11 - 10 in favor of Columbus for the period. The home team had found some footing, and was equalizing the battlefield. However, Dallas was not going to go away easily.
As if to bring emphasis to that last point, Dallas took the lead just 1:13 into the final stanza. William Karlsson lost a battle to Klingberg along the wall to Bobrovsky's left, and Klingberg directed it toward the middle of the ice. The puck bounced off Jamie Benn's stick, and directly to Tyler Seguin, who flicked the puck with one motion toward Bobrovsky, who appeared to have the near post covered. Somehow, it found a seam between body and post, and trickled in, to give Dallas the lead.
The Blue Jackets were in catch-up mode, and the Stars were not in the mood to cooperate. The Stars outshot Columbus in the 3rd, 10 - 7, and appeared interested in using their speed and the periodic shot to simply keep the Blue Jackets at bay. Columbus had a few chances, but could not sustain protracted offensive zone time on a consistent basis. The PK unit again enabled the club to get past Dubinsky's hooking penalty at 13:42, which at least kept them in the game. The stage was set.
Bobrovsky was pulled with 1:19 left in the contest, and with precisely one minute left, Oduya took a slashing penalty against Nick Foligno, who had beaten him into a dangerous offensive area. With the advantage now 6-on-4, some real possibilities seemed to emerge. As quickly as they appeared, they seemed to be dashed, as the Blue Jackets could not get out of their own way. A couple of easy clears by the Stars defense, combined with an offsides call, dwindled the clock to the alarming point. You could hear the rustle of coats being donned in the crowd, as the linesman dropped the puck in the neutral zone for the post-offsides face-off. Alexander Wennberg won the face-off, drawing it back to Werenski. Werenski quickly zipped the puck to the right wing to Cam Atkinson, who skated it toward the net, posing a threat before sending the puck back to Sam Gagner just above the circle. Nick Foligno had Niemi effectively screened, and Gagner placed his shot perfectly to the far corner. Tie game with 15.1 seconds left on the clock, and the Blue Jackets had seemingly produced a point out of thin air.
That point would double in short order in the OT frame. With Wennberg, Saad and Jones on the ice, Wennberg won the face-off, and the Blue Jackets would keep the puck in their domain for virtually the entire OT. After Saad missed wide with a shot, the Jackets started to cycle the puck, eventually working it to Jones up top. Jones skated the puck to his left, and with Wennberg screening Niemi, placed the perfect point shot off of the right post and into the net. What appeared to be a certain loss only 1:02 earlier materialized into one of the more improbable Blue Jackets' victories in recent — or even distant — memory.
This one is one of those benchmark games that you might end up pointing to in April. Converting a flat, messy effort into a win is no mean feat, particularly against a team as talented as Dallas. This was undoubtedly a learning effort for many, and any tendency to come out flat will likely be short-lived in the future.
Despite what some may view as a "soft" goal, Bobrovksy earns the MVP in this one, as he single-handedly kept the club in it early, when they had nothing going for themselves. Foligno is a close second, coming just an assist short of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, and being ever present where he needed to be, whether it was keeping pucks in play or setting some vicious screens. Wennberg and Saad were also impressive, with Wennberg winning 59% of his face-off chances. Dubinsky won 64% of his turns in the circle, contributing to an overall advantage of 55% - 45% for the Blue Jackets.
Dubinsky's face-off contribution helps mitigate his total lack of offensive production. He appears lost with the puck, and indecisive in his passing. Boone Jenner shares that spotlight, as his total lack of production thus far is mystifying. Werenski and Jones continue to impress, and Gagner's production is much needed while Dubinsky, Jenner, Atkinson, et al, figure out their offensive woes.
The Blue Jackets found a way to win this one, but they're going to need to step up the offensive production at even strength. One of these days, Bob is going to need them to bail him out, and they need to be ready. In the meantime, it's a victory worth savoring . . . at least until Friday, when Montreal comes to town. Oh, and that World Series game? 9 - 3 Chicago. Glad you stayed home to watch? Stay tuned.