Tonight’s game was a bit of a sludgefest, featuring a Vancouver Canucks team on the final leg of a 4-in-6 road trip and a Columbus Blue Jackets team decimated by injuries (far more than decimated, to take it literally), finishing a 4-in-7, and certainly emotionally drained from losing their teammates as well as 10 of the last 11 games. Watching these two teams, it was clear the Jackets were simply outmanned. The Canucks have guys like Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, etc. Players you can count on to make a play, no matter the circumstance. How many players do Columbus have that you can say that about? Cam Atkinson, Oliver BJORKSTRAND, Josh Anderson? Sure, but they’re not walking through that gate today. The Jackets are stuck with AHLers and bottom 6 grinders. They can hold a lead, but not come back from a big hole. This team has had some bad bounces, sure, but the elite playmakers like Pettersson create their own good bounces.
I wrote this paragraph halfway through the third period. I rarely start writing the recap before the game is finished, but I wanted to get a head start so I could go to bed early. I’ve never been happier to have to start over, because these Blue Jackets did what they do best - pull out the big win when you least expect it. Four unanswered goals in the final eight minutes resulted in a 5-3 regulation win.
The Jackets have been in early holes recently, and this game was no exception. Bo Horvat drew a slashing penalty on Riley Nash, then got credit for the goal on the ensuing power play. The Canucks won the playoff and cycled the puck quickly. Pettersson snapped a wrister from the right circle, and Horvat was camped out on the doorstep to redirect the puck past Joonas Korpisalo.
Just six minutes later, the Canucks scored again and it looked like this would quickly become a rout. Tyler Myers shot from the top of the zone, with Tyler Toffoli tied up with Markus Nutivaara in front of the net, shielding Korpi. The goal, however, was credited to Pettersson. He was skating from right to left across the zone and was timed up perfectly to deflect the puck just enough to totally take Korpi by surprise.
How many goals over the last two weeks have come from deflections or weird bounces? It’s so discouraging.
Thankfully, the Jackets found a way to stop the bleeding three minutes later. This goal came courtesy of the Eric Robinson/Riley Nash/Kevin Stenlund line, which was the best possession line of the night for the Jackets. Nash won the offensive zone faceoff, and Robinson hustled to control the puck and pass to Nutivaara to start the play. Nutivaara shot from afar, with Nash and Stenlund crashing the net for the rebound. The first rebound shot went off Louis Domingue’s pads, so Nash passed to his left across the crease to a wide open Stenlund.
Another line that formed during the game featured Alexander Wennberg, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Emil Bemstrom. I really liked the skill of his line. More on that later. Late in the period, unfortunately, Bemstrom went to the box for high sticking. Unlike the first power play, this time the Canucks were kept off the board. The PK was not able to clear the zone, but they did a valiant job blocking shots and cleaning up Korpi’s rebounds (Korpi made some good saves). That PK unit was Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, David Savard, and Zach Werenski.
The power play bled into the start of the second, and while the Jackets successfully killed that off, the Canucks wasted little time dominating at 5v5. Troy Stecher dumped the puck in (tipped by J.T. Miller, so no icing), and the Jackets were a bit lackadaisical in recovering it. Pettersson hustled in and beat Nuti to the puck on the side boards. He then made a perfect pass to Miller - pride of East Palestine, Ohio - in the slot. Miller one-timed it for the goal. This is the first one that Korpi probably could have had.
A Miller one-timer you'll be watching more than one time. pic.twitter.com/yCuCdKILyE— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) March 2, 2020
In the words of commenter Brett_390s: “The way they move the puck is mesmerizing. It looks like they’re on the PP even when it’s even strength.”
As for the rest of the period, the Jackets looked like this:
With four minutes left, Stefan Matteau and Zack MacEwen dropped the gloves before a faceoff, but that fight didn’t give any immediate spark to either team.
For the first 12 minutes, the third period was like most of the second. Korpi had settled down and was making good saves, but the Jackets were creating little quality chances. They had just six high danger shot attempts at even strength and just one of those came in the third.
As everyone was counting out the Jackets, another play happened that appeared to be derailed by a bad bounce. Werenski tried and failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone. But then, due to his hustle, the luck turned. He recovered the puck and got it back in the zone. He passed to Murray on the left side, who then made a PERFECT cross-ice pass to a streaking Riley Nash. Nash dragged it and snapped it with the kind of dead-eye shot I had no clue he was capable of making.
Murray had been go for so long (34 games) that I had forgotten just how good of a passer he is. I’ve watched the replay of that pass so many times already.
Murray then delivered in a different way by drawing a tripping penalty. The first power play unit featured Werenski up top, Stenlund on the left, Nyquist in the middle, Dubois on the right, and Foligno down low. They finally showed what can happen when you pass quickly. Dubois had the puck at the edge of the crease (after winning a battle in the corner to maintain possession), but passed across the ice to Stenlund instead. Stenlund then passed immediately to Werenski at the top of the slot, who one-timed it past Domingue. Just like that, the game which seemed like a lost cause was tied.
The momentum had completed turned at this point, and the sellout crowd was into it.
Remember how I said the 10/18/52 line was good? They were instrumental in the next sequence. Bemstrom kept his feet moving on a breakaway and drew a tripping penalty:
The first unit couldn’t score but were moving the puck well again. There was a golden chance to score, with Stenlund right over the puck with Domingue out of position, but he couldn’t settle it down. The second unit came on, which broke from the Jackets’ usual arrangement and featured two defensemen: Murray and Savard. Murray was up top with Savard on the left circle. Wennberg manned the middle, with Bemstrom in the right circle and Jenner around the net. I was skeptical of Savard on the power play, especially in a spot traditionally held by a forward. He and Murray worked the puck back and forth to test the PK formation. This drew Miller out far as he attempted to intercept the pass. This power kill behavior backfired as Savard now had a clear lane between Miller up high and the rest of the Canucks down low to pass to Bemstrom. Bemstrom dragged the puck for just a beat as he skated slight closer, then fired away with that gorgeous shot of his. Jenner had Domingue shielded, and the puck may have deflected off a defender.
That is a game-winner for Bemstrom, who also had the GWG against Ottawa in the previous Columbus win.
The victory was sealed by Gus Nyquist, who has made empty net goals his specialty this season. He now has six on the season, which is tied for the league lead. Nearly half of his goals this year are of the ENG variety. This one was trickier than most. He took no risks, wanting to make sure his shot was clean before giving up the puck. He was well-covered and he bided his time for various assorted Canucks to hit the ice before finally getting the look he wanted.
Just a 1 on 4 goal. No big deal.
The secret MVP of this game is commenter insomnyuk, who successfully reverse-jinxed the Jackets through the comeback.
My reaction to that third period was similar to John Tortorella’s:
On the injury front, the Jackets were without Nathan Gerbe, who will miss 1-2 weeks with a groin strain. For some good news (in addition to Murray’s return), Elvis Merzlikins was working out earlier today, so that’s a promising sign that he could be back sooner rather than later.
The power play had been looking better lately, but had not been rewarded for it. Tonight it was 2/2. That’ll do.
Despite all of the setbacks in February, the other bubble teams in the Metro have not taken advantage. The Rangers lost to the Flyers in regulation, so they are now four points behind the Jackets (with two games in hand). The Hurricanes are three points back (with three games in hand). The Jackets are tied with the Islanders (who have three games in hand) and are just two points behind Pittsburgh for third place (who have three games in hand).
The Jackets have two days off to travel before playing in Calgary on Wednesday night. This road trip could be a great chance to recharge and do some team-building.