The Blue Jackets didn’t play their best hockey on Tuesday night.
Passes were sloppy.
Players were out of position.
Shots went wide.
Coverages were missed.
But they won.
Curtis McElhinney made stops when they needed him to.
Cam Atkinson found two HUGE goals.
And when the Kings (or more specifically Jeff *@$!ing Carter) scored to tie the game? The Jackets never folded.
The first period was a rough beast of a thing, mostly dominated by missed opportunities for both teams, and the Jackets failing to capitalize on the power play. Outshot by the Kings 12-8 by the end of the period, they’d chase the shot clock all night, forced to take opportunistic chances on Peter Budaj, while Los Angeles kept looking for a crack in McElhinney’s armor.
The line of Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, and Cam Atkinson drove the play tonight, and they’d open the scoring early in the second period, with Dubinsky finding Atkinson beside the net with a perfect pass.
Unfortunately, after the Jackets found themselves killing a penalty following a Josh Anderson fight, the Kings’ power play did an excellent job of moving the puck around the blue line between Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, with Martinez finding a good lane to get the puck into the traffic at the front of the net, where Carter was able to finish the job, tying the game at 1-1.
That deficit on the shot clock got deeper and deeper as the Kings did everything they could in the late second and early third period to press their advantage, but even while Columbus was pressured, they didn’t panic.
When the tables finally turned, the Jackets got the puck moving in the LA zone, and it would be Cam Atkinson who came up big again, first by getting the puck deep and handing it off to Brandon Dubinsky before moving back up towards the high slot, then taking a bouncing puck and stepping into it with a perfect rising shot that beat Budaj to open the lead back up to 2-1 for the home team.
That lead held until just past the 10 minute mark, when our favorite traitor was back to cause us all headaches again. In this case, he shadowed Sam Gagner going into Columbus zone, then picked the journeyman’s pocket before he could clear a rebound away from the slot, charging down on McElhinney and hitting his shot to tie things once again.
That left the Jackets scrapping once again, and unfortunately things got a little too complicated when David Savard got tied up with Devin Setoguchi for a holding penalty with less than two minutes to go in regulation, putting Columbus on the kill against a power play unit that had already cracked them once tonight.
Thankfully the PK was able to step up to keep the Kings in check until the end of regulation, continuing the team’s points streak, and once David Savard left the penalty box early in the extra frame the OT was almost all Columbus, with Peter Budaj receiving a bit of puck luck to keep LA alive. Seth Jones nearly wrapped things up in the second minute of the period, and Cam Atkinson came within a hairsbreadth of finishing his hat trick. Brandon Saad had a beautiful breakaway that beat Budaj only to hit the pipe, and then a second bite at the apple a few moments later that sadly went wide.
That meant that we were going to the shootout, everyone’s least favorite way to end the game.
Cam Atkinson won’t get official credit for his hat trick after he slammed home his shootout goal, but he still did a nice job with it.
Anze Kopitar was shut down by McElhinney, and the Jackets were suddenly in control of their destiny.
Sam Gagner did a nice speed up / slow down / pop it home move to give the Jackets a 2-0 edge, but Jeff Carter was able to score on a very similar move to the one he used to tie the game to keep LA alive.
Alexander Wennberg shot third for Columbus, but Budaj got the stop, so it was up to McElhinney to face Marian Gaborik - and he stopped the shot and slapped his glove down on the puck to make sure it wasn’t going anywhere.
Really, tonight was all about Mac. He was tested hard, and he answered the challenge, effectively stopping 46 of 49 shots. That’s INSANE, and he deserved the win tonight.
It wasn’t a great night for a lot of guys. But it didn’t have to be.
They found a way to win.
That’s what good teams do.