It’s crazy to me that these two teams have played three of their four matchups prior to Christmas, but what do I know about scheduling? The important thing for tonight was for the Jackets to come out early and establish a forecheck and, hopefully, get the first goal. When scoring first, Columbus had a .857 winning percentage coming in.
And score first they would. For just the second time in the last 11 games, the Jackets would get on the board first, as Jakub Voracek would put them up 1-0 just 5:14 into the first period. But would it hold up? The Flames had some things to say about that before this one was over. However, it was the Jackets who would do the most talking with their physical play and stout goal-tending from Mathieu Garon.
The Jackets carried most of the play in the first period, as they set up a solid forecheck and gave the Flames very little space to work with. It seemed like almost every time a Calgary skater tried to move up or into the zone, a Jackets skater was in his kitchen. Derek Dorsett was hitting any and everyone in a white sweater, and was credited with a team-leading five hits in the first frame. Both Jared Boll and Tom Sestito found themselves duking it out, with Tim Jackman and Robyn Regehr respectively. Both Jackets got the better end of their fights, including Boll who landed at least five or six consecutive right hands to end it and put Jackman down.
The new-look second line of RJ Umberger—Derick Brassard—Jake Voracek also looked solid in the first, as they set up a few nice chances. So it was just 5:14 in that a solid cycle ended with the puck on the stick of Voracek, who then cruised into the high slot and wristed a goal past the glove of Henrik Karlsson to make it 1-0. It was a big goal not only to give the club the lead, but for Voracek who hadn’t scored a goal in 12 games. “Obviously, it was a good feeling,” Voracek said. “I didn’t really think about it. I knew I would score [again], and there are a lot of games to play. I’m happy I could help the team to win the game tonight.”
“It’s a nice change [to get the lead],” coach Scott Arniel said. “We talked about putting the hard work in [and] then rewarding yourselves. It takes a little bit of the pressure off when you score [first]. We seem to be that way. Sometimes, I’m not sure if we get frustrated, or if we squeeze it a little bit harder when we don’t score early. It was nice to see us get one.”
The Jackets came out and dominated most of the second period, but went to the dressing room with the same one-goal lead, as both teams would trade goals in the period. The Jackets carried most of the play early, and were rewarded for their hard work just past the midway point. The line of Tom Sestito, Kyle Wilson, and Jared Boll got the puck deep, and fired shot after shot at Karlsson. Sestito put one off the crossbar, and the rebound trickled out to Boll who had nothing but air between his stick and the back of the net. Just like that, it was 2-0 Columbus at the 11:18 mark. “My linemates made some good plays there getting to the net,” Boll said. “It popped out and came right to me. We were having our chances, we just needed to bury one.”
But, the Flames would not pack it in. After a questionable interference call on Antoine Vermette—his second such penalty in the period—the Flames wasted little time on the man advantage. Just 33 seconds into the Power Play, Jarome Iginla fed a beautiful pass from left to right in front of Garon, and Olli Jokinen was all alone at the right circle to one-time it into the back of the net, as Garon had little chance to cover the space. The Flames would keep the pressure on, and the Jackets finished the period on their heels.
The third period was played at a much slower pace, as the Jackets hunkered down and the Flames tried like mad to even the score up. The Jackets were able to weather the storm, though the Flames had plenty of decent chances. It culminated in a Too Many Men penalty that the Jackets took with 4:40 to go. “The guys did a great job. Most of the shots I saw tonight,” said goaltender Mathieu Garon. “[The Flames] played well, you have to give them credit. We were able to kill that [late too many men] penalty, and that was a turning point for us. It could have been a different game.”
“[Garon], when it got late and we were sitting on our lead a little bit, was certainly strong,” said coach Arniel. “He gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
After the kill, the Jackets turned the pressure back on, forcing Calgary to wait until well into the last two minutes to pull Karlsson from the net. And not long after that, Rusty Klesla hit a one-in-a-million shot to ice the game after nearly icing the puck. In a clearing attempt, he riccocheted the puck off the glass just in front of his own bench. It got behind the Flames’ defense, and trickled the length of the ice before sneaking just inside the far post with 57.5 seconds left for an empty-net goal to make it 3-1 and seal the win. Klesa didn’t think it was really going to go in at first. “It just, maybe, got a good bounce into the neutral zone,” Klesla said. “At that time you just want to clear the zone and hopefully one of our guys is going to skate in and make a play on it. It’s a good goal to seal it out for us, so it’s good.”
“It’s huge to turn it around [and get the win],” Boll said. “We needed it. The standings are so close. These points are huge, so it was a big win.”
This game came down, really, to one thing. The Jackets were able to impose a bit of physical will on the Flames, and wear them down. Playing from ahead changed the game, and allowed the Jackets to play very physical hockey (they out-hit the Flames 44 to 25 on the night). So, was that the plan? “We talked about it,” Voracek said. “[The Flames] got in late last night. We try to play like that every game and try to make [the opponent] turn the puck over. That’s exactly what we did. They turned the puck over a lot, and we just kept creating scoring chances.”
“It was a huge win against a team that’s trying to catch us in the standings,” Arniel said. “We [also] certainly needed to get a win under our belt.” Agreed. Can we see more of that, please?
The Jackets play one more home game before the Christmas holiday on Thursday at Nationwide against the Vancouver Canucks at 7:00 PM. Check WFNY Tickets if you’re looking for some cheap duckets!
Photo Credit: John Grieshop/Getty Images