Perhaps it was the fact that the Blue Jackets got eliminated from the playoffs last night. The pressure - and, to a degree, the frustration - was missing. I hear a lot of "Sit back! Enjoy the game for what it is!" from other fans...and when there's nothing to play for beyond the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs (which are over a year away), why not enjoy?
And with both Rick Nash and Steve Mason on the shelf nursing injuries, the Blue Jackets (somewhat surprisingly) pulled one of the more entertaining and, more importantly, competitive games of 2011 out of their sleeves. I had a darned good time watching it on TV.
Of course, I was disappointed that they couldn't pull it out. Heck, I was disappointed when it went to overtime, because the CBJ were playing the Blackhawks close enough to get to the shootout. We CBJ fans know what happens in the shootout, right? And then when Arniel puts (AHL'er) Max Mayorov, (AHL'er) Tomas Kubalik and (0-2 in the shootout, no goal since March 9, no assist since March 15) Jakub Voracek as his three shooters? Yup, time to tell the fat lady to warm up. And time to tell the veterans to show some professional pride rather than sit back and let the kids carry the water in the moment of truth.
Still, it was a tough, tough game and the CBJ did not embarrass themselves in a game where I really didn't think they had a chance to win. Look at these comparative stats:
- Shots on goal: CBJ 34, CHI 29
- Penalty minutes: CBJ 10, CHI 16
- Faceoffs won: CBJ 31, CHI 28
- Hits: CBJ 39, CHI 16
This is one where the numbers don't lie - the Jackets outworked the Blackhawks and played a smarter game than the visitors. Almost makes the loser point feel OK. Almost.
Lastly, I can't do this wrapup without mentioning three things:
- Mathieu Garon will probably never be a starting goaltender in the NHL again in his career, but he had a heck of a night tonight with a couple incredible saves. The shootout saves on Toews and Kane were solid, too.
- Matt Calvert, who I keep saying has a hard time NOT scoring, literally proved he has a nose for the goal by launching himself into the net...and leaving the puck in the crease...on his breakaway. It was epic. Shame on the NHL VideoCenter folks for not posting that incredible clip, as I so wish I could share it with all of you.
- Anton Stralman returned last night (the Washington game) after a lengthy absence (his last game was February 27). To be clear, he is not the most complete defenseman on the planet. He is good to give up a play or two that generally results in a goal (like, say, Bryan Bickell's goal tonight). But WOW - what did he put in his Wheaties this morning? Three assists - and two of those basically his scoring shots from the point getting deflected by crease monkeys? The CBJ even got a power play goal for the first time in forever with him on the ice. Welcome back, Anton!
Lastly, there were 16,217 in attendance - a healthier number spiced up by more than a few in Blackhawk colors, but what the heck...enjoy your stay in town and shop 'til you drop!