R Bar in the Arena District before the game. Little did I know that half the Columbus Blue Jackets Twitterverse was there. I arrived early to meet up with The Hockey Writers' Rick Gethin, with whom I attended the game, and proceeded to meet Tweeters, bloggers and blog-readers alike throughout the late afternoon and early evening. For a guy who doesn't get out a ton (the Dark Blue Onesie "keeps me grounded"), this was pretty much mind blowing. To the many folks with whom I enjoyed the pregame festivities, it was a genuine pleasure to meet you!
Then throw in the entire R Bar atmosphere. It really IS a hockey bar. EVERYONE is talking hockey. And they know what they're talking about. I mean, I was having a normal conversation about the relative merits of keeping Nikita Filatov on the roster, CBJ General Manager Scott Howson's morning Q&A (confessional?) with season ticket holders and the societal ramifications of the "FREE MILAN" movement. OK, the last one was a stretch, but not by far. It's one boisterous, loud, fun place. Even with a lot of Buffalo Sabres fans hanging out. (Sabres fans appear to be largely harmless - they're more scared of you than you are of them.)
The goals came from Raffi Torres, Rick Nash (whose falling down shot was slightly reminiscent of RJ Umberger's empty netter of the previous game), Anton Stralman and - get this - Milan Jurcina.
Yeah, Milan Jurcina. You know, Milan Jurcina of FREE MILAN fame. The guy who couldn't get on the ice under Ken Hitchcock put up his first goal as a Blue Jacket. And what a shot it was!
That, along with logging the most ice time (21:51) of any Blue Jacket tonight. I know I'm belaboring Jurcina at the expense of so many other worthy players, but the change in status (and performance) is probably the most striking in the transition from the Hitchcock to Noel coaching regimes. Whether Noel is playing Jurcina to show him off as trade bait, I don't know (but hope not!). What I do know is that Kris Russell is playing with a boatload of confidence knowing that his bodyguard, Jurcina, has his back.
Think about it - with the painful blowouts that we've endured, how many times can you recall where our team dominated from wire to wire? Incredible, just incredible.
Where has this team been all season?