In a string of "must-win" games, none have been bigger than Friday night's Columbus Blue Jackets visit to the United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks, who were only one standings place and two standings points ahead of the CBJ. While by no means dominating from wire to wire, the Blue Jackets fought it out and emerged victorious, 4-3, in regulation.
Start with this:
Everything else is gravy.
Seriously, that Matt Calvert is off to an incredible start for the CBJ. A late-ish season callup, toiling on the bottom half of the forward lines, getting the occasional peek at the top two lines and working his tail off while he's here. And then he goes and gets himself a highlight reel goal like that, more or less all by his lonesome. There are a lot of forwards who play for the CBJ who need to be taking notes.
A (presumably still) bronchitis-stricken Steve Mason stopped 34 of 37 shots, sometimes even getting defensive support. Mase was largely solid, and Kris Russell bailed him out on the one time when he lost the puck in a precarious position. The lack of Marc Methot was notable, as both Anton Stralman (our very own mule!) and callup John Moore (JEEPERS!) were forced into action - Stralman had 20:35 of time on ice, not insignificant.
Oh yeah, and Stralman netted the game winning goal - one of two power play goals that provided a sorely-needed lift to the team. And then 30 seconds later, Stralman pretty much gave up a Patrick Kane goal by his lonesome. Go figure.
Kristian Huselius was terrible (and I use this term generously) for the first half of the game - at least the part where Scott Arniel didn't staple his rear end to the bench. It apparently was so bad that Arniel had Huselius and Calvert switch winger positions to make life easier for Juice. That's right, a 19-year-old who's going through the natural struggles of essentially jumping from juniors to the big leagues is being asked to accommodate the embarrassing shortcomings of a nearly $5 million cap hit veteran. Juice returned to the lineup late in the second and netted an assist, but you have to wonder if his recent healthy scratch and in-game benchings aren't getting to him...CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Hotstove segment tonight reported rumors (denied by both sides - OK...then why did they report it?) that Huselius has asked for a trade.
The game got progressively more intense yet, for me, never approached the craziness of the Los Angeles game. Sure, the CBJ outhit the Blackhawks 43-18, so it's clear that the CBJ weren't sleepwalking through it. And, in the end, they clearly displayed the fire needed to keep pushing this unlikely playoff run along.
Regardless of the perceived intensity/lack thereof, it was a legitimate Game That Mattered. For a night, the CBJ pulled completely even with the defending Stanley Cup champs. Both teams have the exact same record and the same number of standings points. (Oh yeah, and the CBJ have a team-record six-game road winning streak going, as well as a team-record eight road games with at least a single standings point. Congrats!)
NEXT UP: Tuesday night, 7PM at Nationwide, against the Nashville Predators. It's nice to have a little time to rest up/heal up before yet another big game, this time against a division rival. Make sure to catch the Preds before they force the rest of the league to look at mustard-colored away sweaters, causing sight pollution in arenas across North America.