In what was likely one of the most improbable victories of the 80 games played thus far, the Columbus Blue Jackets achieved the goal that had been in existence since Robert Kron won the first-ever faceoff for the Blue Jackets (over Alexei Zhamnov of the Blackhawks) in October 2000 — a seat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The import of the victory, how it came about and the other themes that will dominate conversation in the months ahead will be reserved for another day. Tonight, it is all about Blue Jackets 4 Blackhawks 3, in a shootout, on the road, under the pressure of a playoff chase the team had never experienced.
Fittingly, it was a combination of the old and the new that brought this victory home. The “new” — Steve Mason, Antoine Vermette, Jason Williams, Jakub Voracek, Raffi Torres, Mike Commodore, Fedor Tyutin, Jan Hejda — all played key roles in the victory. The “old” — Rick Nash (to the extent you can call anybody “old” at age 24) came through in the clutch.
This victory did not seem likely in the first period, during which Khabibulin denied Nash on a penalty shot, Seabrook scored on a breakaway and Nash inadvertently knocked in another puck , for a 2 – 0 deficit after 1. In the second, Jared Boll, Antoine Vermette and Jason Williams combined to bring the Jackets back in the game. Boll earned a tough draw with Ben Eager in a dust-up by the Chicago bench, and turned the show over to Vermette. First, Vermette entered the zone hard, dishing to Torres, who shot hard from the left wing. The rebound was captured by Nash, who put another wrister on net, and Vermette was on the doorstep to plant the rebound to bring us within a goal.
Just a few minutes later, Vermette split two defenders at the left point, drove to the crease, gave a little shimmy shake and dished a perfect pass to the right to a waiting Jason Williams, who buried the one-timer for a tie game. Quenville called a timeout, and the game was on. Just 2:30 before the end of the period, Peca lost a battle down low in our zone, and the pass came out to Havlat, who buried a one-timer to the high glove side of Mason before Mason had a chance to react.
The third was an amazing period of hockey, despite the fact that the teams combined for only 9 shots on goal. Chicago was content to dump the puck for most of the period, and the Jackets fought to gain some traction in the offensive zone. With about 6:30 left, Jake Voracek took a shot from the right dot that was blocked in front, and caromed directly to Raffi Torres, waiting in the slot. Raffi slapped the puck toward the open net, only to have Khabibulin dive across the net and deflect the puck with the shaft of his stick, in almost a carbon copy of the save he made against Hejda on Sunday. However, just a minute later, Chimera fed the puck to Nash, drifting across the slot, who buried a backhand for the tying goal — quite possibly the biggest goal in franchise history.
The Jackets gave up a few anxious moments during the balance of regulation time, but ultimately got the game to OT and the clinching point. Chicago dominated the OT period, with 1 minute consumed by a penalty to Tyutin. Mason turned away all 5 Chicago shots,including an amazing, tumbling,pad-stacking save as time wound down and the SO was in order. Mason stuffed Toews. Nash beat Khabibulin, but angled the puck off the far post. Kane was denied by Toews. Next for the CBJ was . . . Tyutin????? I’m not sure Hitch makes this call if we hadn’t already clinched the playoff slot, but he looks like a genius from here. Tyutin takes the puck, gives a little fake, and roofs it on the stick side. Mason then induced Bolland to go wide, and 2 points was ours, and a seat at the playoff table .
We now are 1 point away from clinching 6th place. If we win both remaining games, and Vancouver loses both remaining games, we take 5th. If we end up 6th, we will face either Vancouver or Calgary. More analysis on that later. For now, let’s just revel in a victory that required unparalleled grit and determination from everyone in the locker room.
Most of all, let’s all show up and demonstrate our appreciation for these guys on Saturday. Let’s also remember Mr. Mac, who is smiling right now and tipping his cap to Hitch and the whole crew. I’ve never been prouder to be a Jackets fan than I am tonight.
Kudos to LTL, by the way, for running an awesome live blog during the game. More tomorrow. Go Jackets!!