Throughout the third period, I try to figure out the narrative structure to use for my game recap. Obviously that’s harder to do in a close game, which could go either way, but this felt like one where every bounce was going against the Columbus Blue Jackets. I was going to write about how they shot themselves in the foot with too many penalties. I was going to talk about them extending their longest winless streak of the season.
Instead, I get to write about a victory, but one which leaves the fans angry and the team wounded.
You always wonder what kind of energy a team will have in the first period in the second leg of a back-to-back. That was especially concerning in this case, as the Jackets had plane troubles which kept them in New York overnight. They arrived back in Columbus around noon, and it’s not easy to travel and play in the same day.
Fortunately, the Jackets came ready to play. They controlled the pace of play early, and their hustle drew multiple penalties on the Minnesota Wild. Late in the first power play, Yegor Chinakhov did his best Patrik Laine impression.
Believe it or not, this was the first power play goal of his NHL career. It was his seventh tally of the season and first in nine games.
Minnesota kept crossing the line with their aggression and it resulted in a Jordan Greenway double minor for high sticking with just over two minutes left in the period. This seemed like a golden opportunity to add on to the lead, but then the Jackets started to lose control themselves.
Jake Voracek was able to gain penetration into the slot (boom, phrasing) but rather than take a close range shot through traffic, he looked around to pass. In the process, he coughed up the puck, and the Wild had a shorthanded attempt. Back in the defensive zone, Werenski got caught holding Connor Dewar, thus erasing two minutes of the advantage.
43 seconds after that, Sean Kuraly was called for roughing after what looked like a routine check, but apparently crossed some line for the officials. Just like that, a potential four minute power play turned into a 4-on-3 disadvantage, and you can’t give that opportunity to a guy like Kirill “The Thrill” Kaprizov.
KIRILL. 30 GOALS. Snaps one past Merzlikins to tie it 1-1. pic.twitter.com/bVhrnnAWxp— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 12, 2022
Despite the strong effort for most of the period, it was a tied game going into the first intermission.
The second period was a damn disaster. The Jackets were called for two more penalties themselves, and at 5v5 they lost the shot attempt battle 19-4.
They also lost the lead thanks to a deflected goal. At first I thought it was a soft goal allowed by Elvis Merzlikins, but Jared Spurgeon’s long range shot was deflected by Mats Zuccarello, and the change in angle caught Elvis by surprise.
ZUCC! Mats deflects a Spurgeon shot from long range and the Wild are up 2-1. pic.twitter.com/fZeI2HDCaL— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 12, 2022
The third period was just disjointed, with only 13:03 of 5v5 play. As good as the Jackets’ special teams have been, I worry that too many penalties (in either direction) throw off the 5v5 forward line rotations too much. No forward line played more than 7:31 at 5v5, and a the fourth line of Bemstrom/Sillinger/Chinakhov played just 5:18.
In the middle third of the period, Andrew Peeke took a blatant cross-checking penalty. Near the end of that penalty, Marcus Foligno and Elvis Merzlikins drew off-setting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for a net-front shoving match.
The good news is that the Wild did not record a shot on goal over the two third period power plays and the first of the third. The Jackets recorded three short-handed shots on goal in those same power plays.
Sean Kuraly took a bad hooking penalty at the 13:03 mark, and Minnesota recorded five shots on goal in that power play. Elvis stood tall, however.
Just after that ended, with less than five minutes left, Gus Nyquist cross-checked Kevin Fiala, and Fiala retaliated for a roughing penalty. Even though it meant even strength 4v4, it was frustrating to have such a key player like Nyquist unavailable as the Jackets were going to need to make a push to tie the game up.
Then, in the final minute, with the goalie pulled, disaster struck as Jake Voracek was leveled in open ice by Marcus “the bad Foligno” Foligno. It was a dirty, unnecessary, dangerous, knee-to-knee hit.
yikes. Foligno knocks out a speeding Voracek with his knee, and the Columbus winger appears to have injured his leg badly. pic.twitter.com/wtqSPERAno— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 12, 2022
Foligno looks to kick out his leg before the hit. pic.twitter.com/bTVvbYFxGH— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 12, 2022
Was there a penalty called? Of course not!
Thankfully it didn’t matter, as the team got the sweetest revenge. With 32 seconds left, Oliver BJORKSTRAND passed to Zach Werenski at the top of the zone, and Z’s Hail Mary found the back of the net.
In overtime, disaster struck again, as another star forward suffered a knee-to-knee hit:
Patrik Laine hobbled to the dressing room after this play pic.twitter.com/wjlQ09k5Dv— Hockey Realm (@hockey_realm) March 12, 2022
That meant the Jackets had to play the rest of OT without two of their most-used OT players, Voracek and Laine. That meant a great opportunity for a guy like Chinakhov to play.
It was a back and forth overtime, and it got really scary in the final minute, but Elvis made some incredible saves to preserve the tie.
In the shootout, the Russian rookie stepped up again, with another shootout winner:
That brought up the other Russian sniper, Kaprizov, but Elvis made the save to seal the win:
It’s a party in Columbus! Victory CBJ! pic.twitter.com/Y05cxPIYKl— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 12, 2022
Lori Schmidt has the perfect Tweet-length summary:
The Blue Jackets just beat the Wild out of sheer spite.— Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt) March 12, 2022
We’ve talked a lot about how goaltending has been an issue for this team over the last few months. I’m still concerned, but credit where it’s due: Elvis was great tonight. He had 36 saves, for a save percentage of .947. That’s his best game since beating Montreal on February 12.
Let’s hope for good news about Voracek and Laine. Dave Maetzold reported in the postgame that he passed Laine in the hall, and Laine insisted he was going to be okay. Voracek’s injury looked more serious, though he was back on the bench for overtime and was testing his leg on the ice during breaks.
Marcus Foligno deserves a call from the Department of Player Safety, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for any supplemental discipline.
Too many damn penalties tonight. Eight for Columbus, and five on Minnesota. That’s after four taken and six drawn last night. The Wild came in with the goal of getting under the Jackets’ skin, and they took the bait. Instead, they need to lean on their speed and skill to control possession, and not get caught in shoving matches. That’s the way the Wild want to play. In general, the Jackets struggle with physical opponents.
This team brought consistent effort during that recent stretch where they went 9-2. Even in the losses to the Kings, Bruins, and Leaves, they could be proud of their effort and how they battled until the end. The last two games have been much more low energy. Have they just hit a wall?
On the positive side, this is the 19th comeback win for the Jackets, which leads the league. It’s not good to fall behind so much, but it’s encouraging that it’s not automatically a cause for panic.
The Jackets host Jack Eichel and the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena. Let’s see if the daylight saving time change has any impact. The Knights are really missing their captain, Mark Stone. They have lost three straight — including Eichel’s return to Buffalo on Thursday — and are clinging to a playoff spot by just two points.