Looking to end this brief road trip on a positive note after Friday’s victory against the Lightning, the Blue Jackets hopped over to Sunrise, FL to face the Panthers, who were also coming off a game the previous night.
With Sergei Bobrovsky sent back to Columbus due to his continued illness, Joonas Korpisalo was given the net again following his victory in Tampa, while Anton Forsberg would back him up.
Much like Friday’s game in Tampa the Jackets came out slow, not registering a shot on goal until almost a quarter of the way through the first period. There were scoring opportunities, but the Panthers were clearly the ones dictating the pace of play, and they would cash in early when Aaron Ekblad fired a long pass from the boards to the front of the net, where Shawn Thornton was waiting.
The Columbus bench started to wake up after the goal, and Alexander Wennberg would draw a tripping call from Jaromir Jagr in the Panther’s offensive zone, sending the league’s top power play back to work.
As the man advantage wound down, Ryan Murray put a good shot on net, which Scott Hartnell was there to tip past James Reimer, tying the game.
The period was a bit of a see-saw from there, but clearly tilting in favor of the Jackets when Cam Atkinson picked off a clearing attempt before it could cross the blue line, took a couple good strides and blasted it into the back of the net for his 21st of the year.
At that point, it would have been fair to think the team was on course to repeat their performance from Tampa - start slow, get back in, establish a lead.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that kind of night.
The Panthers pushed back in the second and kept the Jackets pinned in their own end for several long periods, finally drawing the game even when Vincent Trochek fired the puck at the net from a ridiculous angle - basically below the goal line - and squeaked it through Korpisalo to bring things even at 2-2.
Worse, a few shifts later, Markus Nutivaara would make an atrocious turnover in his own zone to former Jacket Jonathan Marchessault, who drove in and outwaited Korpi, popping it home to give the Panthers their second lead of the game.
Nutivaara would be benched for the remainder of the game after that play, and the Panthers never really looked back.
Tensions boiled over at several points, culminating in a set of fights at the end of the period, but Jack Johnson and Aaron Ekblad would be the only two to sit for their sins, despite Nick Foligno chasing Thornton across half the rink and offering to do pugilism.
Unfortunately, hopes that the late bout might have charged up the Columbus bench died quickly, with Jaromir Jagr crashing the net in the opening minutes of the frame and sweeping up a bad rebound that Korpisalo couldn’t freeze, giving the Panthers a two goal lead.
Boone Jenner would bring the Jackets closer, cutting the lead to 4-3 with a nice snipe for his second goal in as many games, but that would be as close as they would come to tying the game despite some good efforts on the power play and with Korpisalo pulled for an extra skater.
The Jackets are still leading the pack, but points on this road trip would have done a great job of opening up space for them in both the Metro division and the NHL as a whole. As it is, they’re still hanging in there, but it’s a thinner margin than most fans would like - particularly since both the games in Carolina and Florida should have been winnable contests.
Bob needs to get healthy.
The team needs to get their focus back.
With luck, the games at home this week will help to provide an opportunity for that.