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Blackhawks Edge Blue Jackets 1-0 in OT

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Game Recap
Looking at that score, you might think that Sunday’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets was a snooze-fest; you would be wrong. Both teams played with fire and passion, and both played extremely well. With 44 shots in the game, bated breaths were common and fans were on the edge of their seats. The puck was passed quickly and smoothly, and both sides skated and hit hard. The game was played exceptionally fast, with only four stoppages in the first period, and there was little rest. Yep, Sunday’s game, regardless of the score, was anything but sleep inducing.

Columbus looked great the first ten minutes, as they kept pressure on the Blackhawks and kept goalie Nikolai Khabibulin on his toes. The next ten minutes of the period was more or less even, as both side had some good chances, and both goalies had some great saves.

During the 18th minute, the Jackets’ Jason Chimera was called for boarding and was sent to the sin bin. During the Chicago power play, Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash was able to grab the puck and almost score a short handed goal; had he done so, this would have been his sixth of the year. Though Nash failed at his attempt, this got the fans riled up and got momentum onto Columbus’ side as they entered the intermission.

With momentum on their side, the Jackets started the second period on fire and were playing even better then they were in the first. Eighteen seconds into the period, Chimera jumped out of the penalty box, received the puck from Nash, and darted down the ice. This play not only showcased that Chimera was able to skate quickly again, which he hasn’t been able to since his injury, but it also drew a penalty as Chicago’s Duncan Keith hooked Chimera. On the Columbus power play, nothing was accomplished as they got off just two shots. The highlight of the second period was when, at the 15-minute mark, a cameraman’s lens was knocked off by a puck.

The third period started out hard and intense, and that is exactly how it ended. Both clubs wanted a win badly and played with that in mind. Near the start of the period, Chicago had too many men on the ice, which gave Columbus a power play. Returning the favor, only one minute later, Columbus was given a penalty for having too many men on the ice. Apparently, math is not a strong suit for either team. After each team killed off power plays, the final period became more a game of chess than anything else; both teams alternated control every three minutes or so. The final minute of the game was a goalies showcase, as both Khabibulin and Columbus’ Steve Mason made amazing saves to keep the game alive.

Overtime started just as the third period ended, with both goalies showing why they were starters, and why their teams were heading to the playoffs. Khabibulin made some amazing stick saves. A miraculous toe save kept Chicago playing after the second minute. Mason, on the other end, made a few blocker saves, and then one where he needed to flip around while on the ground and swat it out.

Though both goalies were playing great, it was the Columbus captain who cost them the game. Rick Nash got too fancy with the puck and seemed to be trying to get his 39th goal, which would give him a new franchise record. Spinning and swerving his way to the goal, Nash turned over the puck to Andrew Ladd who passed it up to Kris Versteeg. Though Mason was able to block most of the shot, Versteeg’s attempt dribbled into the goal and ended the game.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Good
As I say in many of these posts, the goalies were the best part of the game. Mason and Khabibulin combined for 44 saves, and most of them were really good and hard shots. Both players made point blank saves, complex saves, and what amounted to penalty shot saves. Additionally, both Mason and Khabibulin had strong defenses to work with, and these players backed them up well. Both goalies had two instances each where a block was not held properly and there was a wide open shot on the net; the defenses in both cases were able to sweep it out. A strong defense, both with the goalies and with the defensemen, is the key to a good team. These two goalies are the foundation of their teams, and are why both are headed to the playoffs.

Another good thing for the Columbus Blue Jackets was their power play kills. The team was one of the worst in the leagues but they are now doing much better. Climbing from second-to-last, Columbus is now at 10th in the league in power play kills. Sunday night was as good as they get, as Columbus killed off three power plays, and looked to be doing exceptionally well. They even had a good chance to score when they were a man down, as Rick Nash got a breakaway.

The Bad
On the flip side of power play kills, Columbus is doing horribly on power play conversions. Columbus is one of the worst teams in the NHL in terms of power play percentages, and they don’t look like they are climbing. Normally, a playoff team needs both good power play defense and a good offense, but somehow Columbus is able to make do with only the defense. With only four shots during their three power plays, the Jackets looked lost and weak. They looked better when they were a man down then when they were a man up.

The Ugly
Nash is the best player for the Blue Jackets, but he has been slipping as of late. In this game, as well as with both games against Nashville, Nash has looked sluggish and weak, not usually stepping up to the challenge. Though he has his moments, most notably the short handed attempt in the first, Nash just isn’t playing up to his caliber. With him so close to a new franchise record, it seems as though he is just too focused on himself, and not the rest of the team. If Columbus wants to do well in the post season, they need to get Nash back to his old self.

Looking Forward
The point gained by going into overtime and losing marked the first time that the franchise has passed the 90-point mark (the minimum gained by any playoff team last year), and it brings them closer to entering the playoffs for the first time ever. With 90 points, the Jackets are only two points, or a Nashville loss, away from a guaranteed playoff spot and only three points from 6th place in the West, where they would probably be facing the Calgary Flames.

On Saturday, the 11th of April, Columbus will play their last regular season game of the season. Hosting the Minnesota Wild — the team that came into the league the same year as Columbus — the Blue Jackets will be looking to clinch the playoff spot. Though the spot might already be clinched, this game will probably be the last game for Minnesota of the season, and it might be the deciding factor for both teams.

With this in mind, we can look forward to a hard fought and intense game. Even if Minnesota is knocked out, or Columbus is guaranteed the playoffs, both teams will be playing to prove something at the end of the season. I expect that Nationwide Arena will be sold out, and that all of the fans will be on their feet all night long. I also expect Columbus’ backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz to be playing, as Coach Hitchcock will want to give Mason a break. Expect a good first few periods, but an overall Columbus win in the third.

Know Your Hockey
Every sport has its traditions and superstitions. In football, there are beliefs about the proper pregame rituals. In baseball, pitchers use the same socks when in the playoffs. In hockey, the players grow playoff beards. Started in the 1980s by the New York Islanders, a playoff beard is a special part of ice hockey. When a team enters the playoffs, their players do not shave their beards and just let them grow. Though they trim them after a loss, the most players keep them growing until they either win the Stanley Cup or lose out. Though most players do this, not all do, and the coaches usually do not grow beards as well. Joining the team, devout fans also tend to grow out their facial hair. I am looking forward to seeing the scruff that will be on the face of Mason and the many other Columbus rookies; I wonder if they can even grow a beard yet.

On Saturday, the 11th of April, the Columbus Blue Jackets (40-29-10), who are currently 6th in the West with 90 points, play host to the Minnesota Wild (37-33-9), who are currently 10th in the West with 83 points. This is the final game of the season for both teams, and Minnesota currently leads the series 2-1-1 (with one of the wins being a shoot out win).

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About Robert M. Barga