Game 74 Recap: Magnificent
The Blue Jackets had never won seven straight road games before - nor had they ever had back to back games featuring a Columbus player's hat trick. Time to update the record books.
Going into Chicago, the Blue Jackets were unquestionably on a roll, but one had to ask: Could they really keep this up?
The roster was now down both Alexander Wennberg and Jared Boll...well, they were down Alexander Wennberg, anyway, but the activation of Brandon Dubinsky from the sick list gave them a comforting solidity as head coach Todd Richards opted to pair the firey forechecker with Nick Foligno and Artem Anisimov, keeping the Jenner / Johansen / Atkinson and Hartnell / Karlsson / Dano lines from Tuesday's victory intact.
Sergei Bobrovsky got the call in goal, and he didn't have a good start to the game, giving up a goal to Brandon Saad on the first shot of the game, a long knuckleball from the top of the right faceoff circle as the young forward broke into the Columbus zone with Oduya and Sharp.
That's OK, though, because Ryan Johansen was about to get it right back.
Intercepting a pass meant for Duncan Keith at the top of the Columbus zone, Johansen freight trained his way straight up the ice, then blasted the puck past Corey Crawford even as Keith attempted to hook him down from behind.
Johansen's line would follow that up a few minutes later in the period, though he wouldn't show up on the score sheet directly. With the "young guns" out and pressuring the Hawks inside of their own zone when Cody Goloubef saved a rebound at the blue line, then cranked a hard shot on goal that Cam Atkinson would redirect to put the Jackets in front.
Sadly (though I must admit it made for a compelling start to the game), that lead didn't hold. The Blackhawks responded by turning up the pressure, particularly with Jonathan Toews going to the net to pressure Bobrovsky, and it would be Captain Serious who tipped a Johnny Oduya shot past Bob as he camped out at the top of the crease.
If you bet the under for this game, it had to have been a rather frustrating period, and it was only going to get worse when Kevin Connauton hit the ice for his next shift after the Toews goal.
The newest member of the D corps seemed to have the puck on a string as he shot, collected a return pass off the rebound, fired again, then got a lucky bounce when Kris Versteeg's clearing attempt landed right in front of his skates.
Teeing up for the third time in a row, this time his shot found a path through the traffic in front of the Chicago net, and once again Columbus had the lead.
Based on the script that had been followed to that point in the game, fans in Columbus had to be shaking their head when Marian Hossa drew a tripping call, sending Jack Johnson to the box.
Fortunately, it was time to toss those pages into the garbage. The Columbus PK was on point all night, but no time quite like the last :30 seconds of the Johnson penalty, which saw Goloubef set up another goal by digging the puck out of the boards and finding Cam Atkinson at center ice for a perfect spring pass that put him behind the Chicago defense.
Corey Crawford tried to out-wait the Tiny Terror, but Cam faked him out to the left before cutting right and depositing his second of the game (and first SHG this season) into a wide open net.
That was the end of the evening for Mssr. Crawford, who had given up 4 goals on 13 shots (though I think it's fair to say his defense didn't do him any favors), and the entrance of Scott Darling, who managed to keep the lid on for the final four minutes of the opening period.
The second period was a much tighter affair - one suspects that Joel Quenneville had a frank exchange of views with his players - but had some narrow moments, in particular the battles between Dalton Prout and Andrew Shaw, who I must admit was doing a fantastic job of goading the Jackets into penalties, superb work by the Jackets PK, which stopped three more Chicago advantages cold, and a scary tumble for Brandon Dubinsky, who slammed hard into the boards after getting caught up with Duncan Keith in a race for the puck.
Fortunately, though Dubinsky was clearly in some pain afterwards, he was out for his next shift, and continued on through the rest of the game - including a key shorthanded faceoff in the dying seconds of the middle frame.
Skating without Dalton Prout after he'd finally had quite enough of Shaw's antics, the Jackets needed to kill just under a minute and a half of penalty time to start the third, and they got it, though not without a video review after Sergei Bobrovsky managed to stop Brandon Saad's shot on the goal line. Though the puck did appear to poke out after the whistle, review confirmed that the play had been blown dead before that happened, so the Columbus lead would hold.
Chicago got two more cracks at the power play after a somewhat iffy hooking call on Marko Dano early in the period, and a rather less iffy roughing call on Hartnell when he retaliated following Shaw crosschecking him several times in the back. Not the best moment, but an understandable lapse all the same. Fortunately the PK continued to be stellar, and Sergei Bobrovsky was locked in for the duration, leading the Hawks to pull Darling with just under two minutes to go.
There were a couple of tense moments as the Jackets found themselves unable to clear the puck, but finally Nick Foligno was able to get the puck up the ice before dishing off to Cam, allowing him to complete his second career hat trick. (Interestingly, his first was also on the road, against Colorado.)
The 5-2 victory marked some big milestones, both personally and for the organization.
For Cam, his hatty left him at the doorstep of a 20 goal season, while Foligno now sits with 39 assists, and Johansen registered his 40th helper and 25th goal tonight.
The Blue Jackets had never scored hat tricks in back to back games before, and broke a franchise record with 7 straight road wins - and tied another with 21 road wins for the season.
With Jenner, Dubinsky, and Anisimov all back in the lineup, the team is finally looking like the contender we all expected to see for this season, and while it may be too little, too late for this season, it's a welcome sign of things to come.
They've been playing for pride, but their newfound strength will get a big test tomorrow, playing in back to back games against playoff caliber clubs when they face the Blues tomorrow night.
Do we keep putting new pages in the record books? Or is this where the fun stops?
Logic says they can't keep this up. But hockey is not always a game of logic.
Let's see what happens.