The Columbus Blue Jackets have been out of playoff contention for awhile now. They came into today without defensemen Zach Werenski and Nick Blankenburg, both injured in the loss in Tampa on Tuesday. They join a long list of previously injured players such as Patrik Laine, Boone Jenner, Adam Boqvist, and Sean Kuraly. Given all that, you certainly couldn’t blame them if they fell short in the final home game of the season in a rematch against that same Lightning team.
What you forget is that veterans like Oliver BJORKSTRAND and Jake Voracek are too competitive to phone it in. They came to play, as did their teammates, and the Jackets sent the Fifth Line home with a happy feeling after a definitive 5-2 victory.
The Jackets dominated possession early in the first period, and finally broke through near the end, with a rare goal from the aforementioned Voracek. He was set up by an incredible pass from Kent Johnson. At first, I wasn’t sure why Johnson was hesitating with the puck. Upon replay, it was clear that he was gliding left and deking to shift the defense to the left, which cleared a passing lane for him, and left Voracek with a clean look at the net. That’s a “hockey IQ” type play from the rookie.
Midway through the second, the Lightning converted on their third power play of the night. They got seven chances on the night, and converted two of them. Strong effort overall from the CBJ PK.
Just 32 seconds later, the BJORKSTRAND line responded. Playing with rookies Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov, that line had an 80% shot attempt share in 8:36 minutes of 5v5. Pretty good! Anyway, Bjorky worked the puck behind the goal, then fed SOUL KILLINGER on the doorstep.
in a silly goofy mood pic.twitter.com/ob5DH4WGHy— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 29, 2022
Silly doing Silly things pic.twitter.com/otDqMOVJ9Y— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 29, 2022
How good is the rookie? HE’S ONLY 18 YEARS OLD. YOU WERE ONLY SUPPOSED TO BLOW THE BLOODY DOORS OFF
The second period ended with a scrum in front of the net that was pretty damn entertaining. Elvis took a swing at Corey Perry, and Brian Elliott even skated down the ice to exchange some words, though he didn’t get close enough to the scrum to do anything. Elvis and Pat Maroon earned off-setting slashing penalties, and Maroon also earned a roughing penalty. The Raw Charge twitter account argued that Elvis should have gotten a major for punching with his blocker, and I can see that argument. But I also think that punching Perry in the face is worth it.
The result was a power play to start the third period, and the Jackets capitalized. Who else? Jack Roslovic got his 22nd goal of the season. He’s riding a six game point streak, and points in eight of the last nine. He has 13 points (10G, 3A) in those nine games.
Nine minutes later, The Maestro continued his masterpiece with a neutral zone steal and breakaway goal.
Ollie adds the 4th goal of the night! SHEEESH pic.twitter.com/CnpdMiVUnX— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 29, 2022
That’s his 27th of the season, good for the team lead.
The Lightning pulled Elliott with five minutes to go, and after a Chinakhov holding penalty, Perry scored a 6v4 power play goal.
A little over a minute later, with the net empty again, Andrew Peeke took his time to settle the puck at the blue line, then fired away. Thanks to a deflection of Brayden Point’s stick, it made it’s way on target to the goal.
Peeke Performance! pic.twitter.com/bciY3AJlOj— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 29, 2022
It was good to see Peeke get rewarded with a goal like that. He had another monster night with two blocks and two hits, including this monster one on Alex Killorn (which was then followed by another minute of harassment in the defensive zone).
What a parallel: the team started and finished their home slate with multi-goal wins, but one was against one of the worst teams in the league, and the other was against one of the best.
Elvis Merzlikins had another great performance with a .926 save percentage. The Jackets feasted on a backup goalie, but Elvis faced the best skaters that Tampa has to offer. He stepped up when he had to. In his last seven games, Elvis has had a save percentage over .925 five times.
Credit to the defense: they allowed just 22 unblocked shot attempts at 5v5.
It was a bit of a Dodger Stadium crowd, where it took awhile to fill in, and a fair number of fans left early to beat the traffic. In between, however, it was another packed and loud crowd. Despite the lack of a postseason, something about this team resonated with the fans. They showed up all season. Was it people eager to be back after a COVID break? Was it the increase in goal scoring? The chance to see exciting young players like Sillinger? Whatever it is, it worked. The fans were rewarded a lot, and the players seemed to feed on the energy.
The Eastern Conference playoff seeding remains up in the air going into the final day of the season: the Lightning are just one point ahead of Boston. Tampa needs to win to get the third seed and face Toronto. If they lose and the Bruins beat the Leafs, then the latter leaps them and the Bolts would have to play the Canes.
Meanwhile the Penguins are one up on the Capitals, with the Caps playing the Rangers and the Pens hosting the Jackets. This race is to avoid playing the Florida Panthers in the first round.
At 7 p.m. tomorrow the Jackets will take the ice in Pittsburgh, where they have not won since 2015. Can they end on a high note?