This was a tale of three games. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie “Airplane!” and therefore have no idea what the title of this post of the picture to the right even mean, let me give you a brief synopsis: as the airplane disaster gets worse and worse, the main guy in the ground control crew (Steve McCroskey, played by Lloyd Bridges) offers a series of one-liners as he tries to cope: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking…. smoking… sniffing glue… using amphetamines…” etc. What does this have to do with anything, you might ask? Well, this being my first taste of “playoff hockey” is taking years off my life. With the last two games—how important they have been, as well as how they ended—it’s been like that for me: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.” We didn’t know whether or not Steve Mason would even be playing as late as 5:00 or 5:30. In the end, he did suit up, and proved to be the game-winner in many ways. That’s not to say there weren’t some bumps (read: a giant collapse in period 3) to be concerned with. But, at the end of the day, it was two more ever-so-important points, and a great start to this four-of-five-at-home stretch, and a record 19,167 fans got to watch it.
Coach Ken Hitchcock had one beef with the crowd, though: “Somebody let in these other people today with the funny-colored sweaters,” Hitch said, referring to the thousands of Penguins fans. “And it screwed the sound up.” Perhaps a more appropriate and kid-friendly quote came from the Jackets coach: “Look who we beat in the last three games,” Ken Hitchcock said. “We beat Detroit, we beat Boston, we beat the hottest team in the NHL. It’s hard. Every game is hard. There are no breathers. … It’s the way it is right now. You have to find the energy and we need new people stepping up. We’ve got to keep going and keep rolling.” This game was a classic two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of game. We documented in the preview how scorching hot the Penguins have been (7 in a row, 9-out-of-10 going into last night), and what it would take to slow them down. For 47 minutes, the Jackets did just that, building a 3-0 lead into the third period. And then, well, the wheels came off for about 4 minutes, and that was all it took for Pittsburgh’s offensive horses to get them right back into the game.
I myself was playing a gig with my band at a bar without the game on TV, so I enlisted the help of friend and frequent commenter Lars to keep me updated. Scott jumped in to help out as well. Here was the timeline:
8:30: Wow, that was a thing of beauty! 2-0 Jackets on PP Vermette to Williams
9:09: 3-0, 13 min left
9:23: (Scott) THREE third period goals?!?
9:25: (Lars again) 3-3, no idea what happened
9:37: OT at least they’ll get 1… can’t believe they blew it… outshot 19-4 in 3rd
You can imagine my surprise when I read each of those. (In addition to those texts and with a hat tip to the Beatles/Joe Cocker, I’m going to do my best to recap this game with a little help from my friends, along the way.)Back to the whole “tale of three games” thing from the lead: Game 1 – Jackets worked their way out to a 3-0 lead with goals by Kristian Huselius, Jason Williams, and Antoine Vermette (who played ANOTHER solid game, his third in a row since coming over from Ottawa), and Mason looked sharp. The Jackets appeared poised not only to end the Penguins streak, but to do so in the most convincing fashion possible. Game 2 – And then, the third period happened. The Jackets got their third goal 1:03 into the third, and then decided they could slow down a bit. The Penguins came out firing, outshooting the Jackets 19-4, and in the span of 3:25 midway through the period had managed to tie the game. Game 3 – OT and a heart-stopping shoot-out. Let’s hear from my pal Jeff, who has season tickets:
Last night was a psychotic roller coaster ride. … I only wish we could have done it in regulation, and that’s how it should have played out. The Old Jackets showed up in the third, and that was hard to watch. Nobody can give up 19 shots to the Pens in one period and hope to get away with it. Mason was a pleasure to watch (and, unfortunately, I got to watch a LOT of him with that horrible third period in my end). Imagine blanking both Crosby and Malkin in the SO. He’s the Ice Man, for sure. I’m still not quite ready to believe the CBJ will make the playoffs. Little five-minute, three-goal lapses like last night tell me there’s too much that can go wrong too fast for me to really feel confident. Maybe I never will. What’s different now is I think there’s always at least the possibility that the CBJ can walk into any game, with any team, and steal a point or two, instead of being a sure-thing loss.
Well stated. Both goalies made some serious stops in the overtime period to get it to the shootout, where they continued their dominance. Marc-Andre Fleury shut down Jason Williams and Rick Nash with back-to-back pad saves, and Mason was equal to the task, stopping Kris Letang and Sydney Crosby. Then, Huselius took center stage. “It’s pretty amazing being out there, in that situation,” Huselius said. “The game is on the line, the crowd is standing you want to be out there. I saw how quick (Fleury) was with the pads on Willy and Nash, and so I decided to take a different approach.” And it worked, as he didn’t make too many moves en route to smoking a shot through Fleury’s 5-Hole and into the back of the net.
But, the game was not yet over. Mason had to come up big one more time, this time against league-leading scorer Evgeni Malkin. And come up big he did, forcing Malkin’s shot to the side for the win. “As long as we score first, I feel pretty confident,” Mason said. “It doesn’t matter to me what the score is or what happens in the game. My demeanor never changes out there. I was calm throughout.”
“It felt like we were playing in Canada,” Huselius said. “It was unbelievable. Hopefully, we can pay back the fans by making the playoffs.” Indeed, Juice. Indeed.
The Jackets have reached 35 wins on the season. Only one other time in franchise history have they won 35 games, and with 14 games to go this year one would expect that record to fall. And, Stevie Franchise fought through his cold and pulled out hs 28th win of the season, which puts him all alone as the franchise record holder for goalie-wins in a season as well. One can only hope this is not the last time he sets that record, however.
Other Important Scores
Thanks to the great people at Sports Club Stats, we have started looking at Jackets games in the context of the rest of the conference and who the Jackets are fighting with for those playoff spots. Picking up from the “Who To Root For” section of the preview, here are the “Other Important Scores” from around the Western Conference last night:
Pittsburgh at Columbus – CLS wins, 4-3 (SO)
Minnesota at Colorado – COL wins, 2-1 (SO)
New York Rangers at Nashville – NYR wins, 4-2
Atlanta at Edmonton – ATL wins, 4-3 (SO)
San Jose at St. Louis – STL wins, 3-1
Carolina at Dallas – DAL wins, 3-2
The Jackets obviously helped themselves, and got a little help from the Rangers Avalanche, and Thrashers, but St. Louis and Dallas helped themselves, as did Minnesota and Edmonton managing to get at least a point. SCS has the Jackets moving up 6.5%, to their highest ranking of 82.3%.