Coming off a frustrating shutout loss to Colorado for their first home game of 2018, the Blue Jackets needed a to come out firing, with a big effort to get their groove back and try to keep up with the grueling playoff race in the Metropolitan Division.
They got it! And then they didn’t. And then they did! But then they really didn’t. But somehow they managed to pull out a win in the shootout, even when there were times when it looked like this team really, really didn’t deserve it.
The Blue Jackets came out with a stranglehold on the puck, swarming the offensive zone and peppering James Reimer with shot attempts, often forcing the journeyman goaltender to cough up the puck or struggle with finding rebounds, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities.
Still, the constant pressure did finally earn Columbus a power play, and to the delight and surprise of fans everywhere, the Captain would take care of business, snapping his goal drought with a little something something like this:
fliggy finishes filthy feed from pld pic.twitter.com/ifmJVu30Qz— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) January 7, 2018
There were some near miss opportunities to extend the lead, but Reimer kept the Panthers in the game, and his teammates responded by finally putting pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky and rattling off six shots in a row and a two power plays of their own, the second of which would carry over into the first minute and a half of the second period.
Or so the theory goes.
Unfortunately for fans in Columbus, the Panthers pounced on that partial power play and Jonathan Huberdeau would take advantage of Bob and the PK making a series of errors that began with Bobrovsky trying to play the puck outside of his net, then chipping a pass to Jack Johnson while he was surrounded by white jerseys.
The puck went right to the Panthers winger, and the game would be tied up less than a minute into the frame.
That goal triggered another surge of activity from the Panthers that left the Jackets chasing the play, and only some key glove saves from Bobrovsky kept things tied up until Florida made a series of mistakes that would put them on the PK once again. The Blue Jackets didn’t connect on their second power play of the night, but that opportunity to reset and catch their breath was exactly what the home team needed.
The game began to tilt into Columbus’ favor again, and when the Panthers handed the Jackets a brief 5 on 3 advantage late in the period, the power play worked, hustled, and near the end of the second penalty...cashed in.
The cross ice passes to a skater waiting to cash in at the side of the net was the clear plan for every Columbus power play tonight, and though it was not always effective - especially with the Panthers looking at the play and attempting to clog the lanes whenever possible - it paid off when Seth Jones connected to Pierre-Luc Dubois for the 2-1 lead that would stand through the end of the period.
If the first and second periods were often tilted in favor of Columbus, the Panthers had control for most of the final period of regulation. For the most part Bobrovsky was standing tall, but there was a scary moment midway through the period when David Savard clipped Bob in the throat with his own stick on a play around the crease, stopping the action and requiring Columbus head trainer Mike Vogt to go out to evaluate Bobrovsky on the ice to ensure he would be able to continue.
Columbus did have their opportunities - most dramatically a Dubois breakaway from the penalty box that Reimer narrowly turned aside to keep things a one goal game - but never quite found the back of the net, including several occasions where the puck carrier opted to pass instead of shoot, most often resulting in a turnover instead of a good scoring chance.
Those missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Blue Jackets bench late in the period, when both Mike Mattheson and Tyler Motte were whistled for tripping and embellishment, respectively, putting the teams 4 on 4.
The Panthers would pull Reimer from his crease to give them a de facto power play, and Aleksandr Barkov tied things up with the extra skater to keep the game alive.
Each team had dramatic opportunities during the 3 on 3 overtime, and both Bobrovsky and Reimer rose to the challenge, with each netminder having stopped more than 40 shots (46 of 48 for Reimer, 42 of 44 for Bob) by the end of the five minute period.
That meant that we were off to a shootout, and oh, boy, what a shootout it was.
‘Marathon’ is a pretty good word to describe how things went, though no one could have guessed it from the way things started off, with Artemi Panarin coming in to score to open things up, while Bob stopped Vinnie Trochek cold.
The second round would see Oliver Bjorkstrand stopped while Barkov scored again on an absolutely filthy move that popped just under the crossbar, and in the third round both teams would be blanked, which meant it was time for extra frames.
And after both teams were blanked in the fourth round, a fifth.
And a sixth.
And a seventh.
this is stressful.— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) January 8, 2018
Josh Anderson would go over the boards in the eighth round and use a slow down - speed up - deke move quite reminiscent of Ryan Johansen’s signature SO dagger to crack Reimer, and Bob would turn aside Jake McCann’s shot, giving the Blue Jackets the win.
Final Score: Blue Jackets 3 - Panthers 2 (SO)
To their credit, the Jackets looked very, very good at several points in this game - but they also looked quite wretched in others, and that’s something the team needs to keep working on, particularly when guys like Bobrovsky, Dubois, and Panarin are putting in workhorse performances.
The win keeps Columbus in the WC1 position, still above the bar for a playoff spot, and right on the Devils and Rangers heels. There’s a big opportunity - and a big challenge - coming up tomorrow night, when the Jackets travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs.
Good luck, boys.
You’re gonna need it.