Game 5 Recap: Fibrillation
The Blue Jackets showed signs of life - and perhaps even of being a hockey team - at several points during Friday's game against the Maple Leafs, but continued mental mistakes and uneven levels of effort lead to yet another late game collapse.
Fibrillation is the medical term used to describe two different types of erratic, irregular contractions of the heart.
Atrial Fibrillation, or "A-fib" is concerning, but can generally be treated with medication and managed, if not entirely eliminated, without serious threat to life.
Ventricular Fibrillation, on the other hand, is generally seen during cardiac arrest, and if it is not stopped quickly (usually with those neat zappy electric paddles you see on TV), it will almost certainly be fatal.
Unfortunately for fans in Columbus, what they saw tonight looked a lot more like a case of V-Fib for the Blue Jackets' collective heartbeat.
Things generally started off pretty well for the Blue Jackets. Both teams came out fairly strong, but Columbus was keeping a solid forecheck on the Maple Leafs, and found a little puck luck early in the period when Boone Jenner got his stick on a Cam Atkinson shot that had been going quite wide of James Reimer before he angled it back on target.
Thanks to some decent defense and a couple of excellent saves by Sergei Bobrovsky, that 1-0 lead held through 20 minutes, but there were signs of concern as the period wound down. The more the Leafs pushed the play, the more the Jackets seemed to start scrambling.
The initial symptoms detected at the end of the first period worsened almost immediately when the Leafs came out firing for the second period, pushing the play into the Columbus zone. A "pass to nowhere" by Dalton Prout that might have been intended as a clearing attempt lead to Nick Spaling dragging the puck (and 2/3 of the Columbus defenders) behind the net, bunching them up before Daniel Winnik was able to dig the puck free and pass it to a wide open and waiting Morgan Reilly, who hammered the shot home to tie things up just 30 seconds into the frame.
The deadlock stood until just shy of the midpoint, when a rush up ice by James van Riemsdyk, who fired a shot from just inside the Blue Line that Sergei Bobrovsky was not able to stop. While he almost certainly wanted that one back, the next goal was as much a collective failing as an individual one, with Nazem Kadri's line generating chaos around the Columbus crease before Kadri was able to pop home a loose rebound.
Things finally boiled over with about five minutes to go in the period after Dion Phaneuf drove a solid crosscheck into the back of former Leaf David Clarkson, and the two had a frank exchange of views that ended with coincidental roughing minors and an additional minor to Phaneuf, putting Columbus on the power play.
That man advantage didn't cash in, but the energy boost seemed to help settle the team's collective heartbeat a bit. Passes got a little cleaner, guys took a little more time with the puck, and stronger attempts were made to push into the Toronto zone, eventually leading to some sustained offensive pressure.
Lo and behold, when getting some effective puck movement going, good things happened. In this particular case, Scott Hartnell was able to bounce the puck along the end boards to Nick Foligno, who collected the bouncing puck and tucked it past Reimer's leg before the goaltender realized the danger to cut the lead to 3-2.
Even better, once play resumed Brandon Saad would draw a tripping call to send Leo Komarov to the box, and while the powerplay didn't cash in before the period came to an end, it would be a hungry squad hitting the ice with almost 90 seconds of the man advantage to start the third.
With the opportunity to tie things up, the Jackets seemed to have things much closer to under control than we'd seen most of this young season. Once again, there was some confidence and thought put into the play with and without the puck by the power play unit, and things seemed to finally be looking up when Ryan Johansen put a perfect pass onto Scott Hartnell's stick in the high slot for a one timer, which he slammed through to knot the game at 3-3.
That state of affairs lasted for almost three minutes before symptoms began to set in again. Another press by Toronto's top line caused a defensive miscue, this time from Brandon Dubinsky, who was put onto the wrong side and outmuscled around the crease by Lupul. Phaneuf saw the opportunity and put the puck where Lupul needed it, breaking the tie and putting Toronto back in control.
The Jackets had opportunities to bring things back, particularly a late power play after Nick Spaling was given a (frankly, quite generous) minor for boarding Foligno, though on replay the hit from behind certainly looked vicious enough to deserve a major.
Unable to convert on their opportunity, Columbus found themselves deep in the grip of V-Fib when Leo Komarov blasted past Boone Jenner, who inexplicably went to the bench instead of continuing the play. (Jenner later stated that he thought the play was being blown dead because the Leafs had too many men on the ice - something that coach Richards backed up in his own press conference). Left completely clear to go one on one with Bobrovsky, Komarov took a shot that trickled through Bob's five hole, and it was clear this cardiac arrest would be fatal.
Komarov would add an empty netter three minutes later to seal the lid, but it was clear from the entire team's body language that the game was over the moment Toronto restored their two goal lead, leaving fans and foes alike wondering how a team with his much on-ice talent can be so inexplicably bad.
Final Score: Maple Leafs 6 - Blue Jackets 3
The Jackets face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center, and barring a miracle it seems likely that we'll see the club drop to 0-6-0. Whispers have been running rampant about coach Todd Richards' status - one has to think that if he cannot find a way to get his team going that he'll be sent packing.
As to what follows, it's impossible to say, but it's certainly going to be nothing like what was expected for this team.