The Columbus Bluejackets beat the Calgary Flames tonight, 5 – 0. Let me repeat that . . . the Columbus Bluejackets beat the Calgary Flames tonight, 5 -0. And you know what? The game wasn’t that close!
Playing the most spirited 60 minutes of masterfully executed hockey that I can remember seeing, at both ends of the ice, the Bluejackets had the Northwest Division leaders skating aimlessly in their own end, and frankly looking a bit shell-schocked.
With the real possibility that these two teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, the Bluejackets wanted to make a statement — show that the physcial intimidation (a.k.a. thuggery) that Calgary loves to employ would not put the CBJ off their Game. (AP Photo — Paul Vernon)
The superlatives in this one are too numerous to put in a blog entry. Starting with Mason, who was other-worldly. Not seriously challenged until the 3rd, he was amazing throughout. We surrendered 7 power plays to the #4 power play team in the league, and they got zip, nada, zilch. A lot was due to our PK, which was a simple extension of our defense all night long. We challenged the puck all over the ice, from the forecheck through the neutral zone. We kept wings wide, cleared the crease, and made smart and quick exit passes. Hejda was a monster tonight — all over the ice.
On offense, Hitchcock obviously saw something when he chose to keep Malhotra on the top line, and Williams on the 3rd line. Might have had something to do with faceoffs — the CBJ enjoyed a 44 – 24 advantage, with Malhotra going 15-8, and Vermette 20-6. Two (and really three) power play goals. 4 assists each to Nash and Huselius. Umberger notching another one, as does Torres.
You want to know how good an effort this one was? Jason Williams scores two goals (and plays superbly otherwise) and can’t even crack the 3 stars! (3. Mason, 2. Huselius, 1. Nash).
Finally, although the Jackets were outhit substantially, it was a meaningless number. As anyone watching will tell you, there was some brutal action out there. Phaneuf engaged in his usual cheap shots. Klesla, of all people, takes on Todd Bertuzzi in a fight, and crushes him!! Boll and Vandermeer go at it at the same time, and Boll is the victor there, though it cost each of them a game misconduct. A scad of roughing penalties, including 4 10-minute misconducts, were handed out for a scrum at the end of the 2nd. 124 penalty minutes in all were dished out tonight. A physical statement was made . . .
It is with great joy that I present the +/- tonight:
+ Special Teams — It is so nice to be able to say this. Our power play was 2 for 5 (and really 3 for 5, given that Torres’ goal came just after the penalty expired, and before the player got back in the play. They controlled and moved the puck, got bodies in the paint, put shots on net. The PK was perfect, killing off all 7 Calgary power plays, including 1:17 of 5-on-3 and a bizarre double minor for hooking and holding called on Commodore in the 3rd.
+ Defense — Keeping Calgary off the board is always quite and acheivement, and although we gave up a fair number of shots, almost half of them came in the 3rd period, when things had already been decided. We checked, we put pressure all over the ice, and we supported beautifully in our own zone.
+ Offense — So much for worrying about top line production, eh? 9 points and +5 between them tonight. We kept possession, we put pucks on net, we passed beautifully, and we were patient. We chased Kiprusoff!!! And as productive as we were, it could have been far bigger. We hit at least two posts, and some terrific saves were made. In the third, Vermette made a no-look, laser beam pass from the right corner behind the goal, straight to Umberger’s stick in the crease. McIlhenny just happend to be there or it is a highlight reel goal.
+ Team — This was 60 minutes of Hitch Hockey at its finest! Everyone, and I mean everyone, contributed at both ends. Well, I guess tecnically Mason only contributed at one end, but we’ll take it.
+ Coaching — Whatever Hitch saw in the films of the Calgary loss at Pittsburgh last night, it sure worked! Nicely done!
+ Officiating — This may seem like a strange one, and I frankly started writing this with the intent of making hte officiating my only minus, when I realized that they really called the game they had to. They were hyper vigilant about making calls, were ruthless with the misconduct penalties, and gave no inch of room. Unusual for this time of year, but given how Calgary was trying to play, I can understand why they called what they did to keep some vestige of control. A couple of tooth grinders when the official next to the play makes no call, but the guy 80 feet away does. When they actually called Dion Phaneuf for an elbow, I knew the officials were serious.
Another milestone game for the CBJ. Nash sets a new personal best with 71 points for the year. I erroneously reported this as a CBJ record in my Tweets from the game, but in fact is 5 short of Ray Whitney’s club record.
Next post will update playoff situation. Wife and I sported the blue hair for the first time tonight, drawing anticipated looks of confusion. The Blue Hair is now safely in the suitcase, as we fly to St. Louis at 6:30 AM tomorrow — getting in a day early to scout out the opposition and get ready for Saturday, when we rendevouz with our Jacket Backers bus passenger and invate the Scottrade Center. More postings from St. Louis, and Twitter feeds from the game.