The Jackets have been traditionally good against the East over the past four seasons. They would need that record to continue in a positive way, as they have gotten to the point of the season where they need two points basically every night.
They came out playing like they knew their playoff lives depended on it, registering eight of the first nine shots. And, while they had tons of chances to win this game in regulation and overtime, a hot opposing backup goaltender and their nemesis of late—the shootout—would decide it. It seemed early like the Jackets might be catching a break by facing Boston’s backup goalie, Tuukka Rask. At the end of the game, however, Rask would prove to be the difference.
The first period started about as well as Columbus could have asked, as Boston took a too many men on the ice penalty just 57 seconds in. And though they would pepper Rask with several shots, he was up to the task early. As was Steve Mason. Both goalies were perfect through the first 19 minutes of the period. But it was that last minute that went the Jackets’ way. Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek cycled the puck up high to Grant Clitsome, who drifted to the center of the blue line and let loose his cannon of a shot, sniping it past Rask with just 52.5 seconds to go to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission. It was Clitsome’s fourth goal of the season, and snapped a 13-game goalless streak for the young defenseman.
The teams would trade punches again to start the second, and at the midway point the Jackets were still up. But, the monster defenseman Zdeno Chara would change all of that for Boston, as he ripped a slapper from the left point that beat Mason at 12:20 of the period to tie it up. This seemed to energize the Bruins, and they carried much of the remaining 7:40 of the period. Columbus would survive the onslaught, and made it to the intermission tied at one while out-shooting the Bruins 23-17 through two periods.
The third period started well for Columbus. They kept earning chances, and kept themselves out of the penalty box. And with 7:41 left, it looked like they’d finally gotten over the hump. After some tight defense, a nice effort by Scottie Upshall kept the puck in the Boston zone, and he would find Antoine Vermette down low. Vermette fed RJ Umberger on the left post, and Umberger was able to get the puck back in the middle to Upshall. Rask was down and out of position, and Upshall buried it for his 20th of the season and gave Columbus a 2-1 lead.
It would be short-lived, however.
The Jackets had just taken the lead, and went on the man advantage with just under 7:00 left looking to pad their lead. Instead they played a little too methodically and were a bit lax with the puck. Derick Brassard turned the puck over at the Bruins’ blue line. Rich Peverley took it all the way down, beat his man, and stuffed the puck under Steve Mason. Just like that, the short-handed goal tied it.
The teams would trade chances the rest of the way and into overtime, with Columbus unable to capitalize on several gorgeous chances in the third and into the extra period. Rask was just better. Once the game got to the shoot-out, it almost felt pre-ordained, as the Jackets have now lost five consecutive shoot-outs. Columbus missed on all three chances, and Tyler Seguin’s opening round cap for Boston ended up being the deciding goal. “[The shootout has] been frustrating and an issue with this team,” coach Scott Arniel said. “I’ve seen it at different levels in different years; when you’re winning games, everybody is very confident going into [a shootout]. When it’s turned like it is now, everybody is gripping the sticks a little tighter and probably not thinking those positive thoughts like they usually do when we’re winning them.”
Were the team not so desperate for points, this game would probably be a positive outcome. “[T]his was one of our best games in probably two or three weeks,” Arniel said. “We did a good job with puck possession, we did a good job with our speed, didn’t spend a lot of time in our end of the ice, and really did a good job of funneling pucks to the net and getting second and third opportunities.”
To that end, the team deserved a better fate tonight, but in the end you make your own luck; they certainly had enough chances to win it, but just couldn’t get the goal they needed. Likewise, their one careless turnover on the Power Play allowed Boston to tie it up. “It was a game that was right there for us to get,” Upshall said. “I thought we did a lot of great things. I really thought we played a solid game against a great team, and we just found a way to let one slip away.”
“I think we squandered away [a point],” Arniel said.
Indeed. The Jackets are now effectively reduced to winning 11 of their last 13 games and/or getting some help from other clubs if they want to entertain any ideas about the playoffs. “We’re just approaching it one day at a time,” Umberger said. “We still want to win hockey games. We’re still fighting and clawing until they tell us the season’s over.”
It may be sooner than they hope for. Despite that, the coach says the confidence is still there. “Everybody’s frustrated that we played so hard and can’t find that one extra goal,” Arniel said. “There is frustration. But they’ve done a good job of firing back up the next time we step on the ice for another game. These guys could’ve packed it in a long time ago, and we haven’t done that. We’ll continue to play hard.”
Columbus continues a stretch of five-of-seven on home ice on Thursday against Detroit. What better way to celebrate your Irish heritage than with some Jackets hockey? WFNY Tickets has you covered for the duckets. Puck drops at 7:00 on Thursday.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jay LaPrete