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Blue Jackets come out fast, clip the Wings 4-3

December 19, 2006

I had the pleasure of attending last night’s contest between the Blue Jackets and Red Wings.  I’ve been to my share of games between these two teams, and with one notable exception it has not been pretty.  Detroit had been playing very well coming into the game, and the Blue Jackets had suffered their second defeat in a row.  In their past two games Columbus had given up six first period goals (yes, I’m only including the one Phoenix goal so that the five Chicago scored don’t seem so bad!), so it was imperative that the Blue Jackets come out of the locker room strong to at least neutralize the early threat.

While his teammates changed lines on the power play, Dominik Hasek circled behind his net to square the puck away for the attackers.  What he didn’t see was Jacket penalty killer Jason Chimera bearing in hard on him.  Chimera stripped Hasek of the puck, settled the rubber as he came around the net and fired a wrister over the Dominator’s left shoulder for a short handed marker. 

Nash scores on HasekA little over a minute later, the top line of Nash/Fedorov/Vyborny displayed a combination of skill and power to make the score 2-0 in favor of Columbus.  Coming across center ice, Vyborny passed ahead to Fedorov.  Fedorov crossed into the offensive zone and deftly left the puck for Vyborny a few feet in.  David saw Rick Nash across the slot and fed him the puck.  Nash used his size well as he bulled in on Hasek.  He fake the forehand, pulled the puck back to his backhand and reached around the goalie’s outstretched leg pad as he crossed in front of the goal.  Before anyone in the crowd or on the Red Wings bench knew what had happened, the defensively tight Wings team had allowed two uncharacteristic goals.  The crowd was in the game, the team was in the game, and were were not even ten minutes in.  It felt very good to be a Blue Jackets fan at that moment.

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Before the end of the first, Sergei Fedorov potted a power play goal to give the Jackets a 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.  The crowd stood for the team as they left the ice, and the concourses were abuzz with energy and excitement.  The holiday season and a three-goal lead over the hated Wings?!?  It was just too much.

Coming out for the second period, Wings coach Mike Babcock sent out Chris Osgood to face the barrage while giving Dominik the rest of the night off.  The Detroit ‘D’ maintained their space better in the second, cut down on the shots against, and allowed the offense to apply the pressure.  After being outshot in the first period by a 12-7 count, the Red Wings regrouped and put 16 pucks on net in the second compared to seven for Columbus.  One shot from Robert Lang passed Fredrik Norrena to bring the Wings within two.  In the past, when the Wings would score in Nationwide it would get quite loud.  Last night, aside from the 40-year old guy sitting right in front of me who practically begged Hasek for a stray puck in the benches, it was pretty quiet.  The second period ended with that 3-1 score, and the fans only had to wait/suffer twenty more minutes for their first home win against Detroit in three seasons.

The third was more of the same from Detroit.  They mostly kept the puck away from the slot, and the 13-7 shots for advantage didn’t begin to tell the story.  As Truth Serum noted in his column this morning, the Jackets employed a neutral zone trap in the third.  I noticed this as well.  It’s been noted well both here at EOB, in comments I’ve made at The Jacket Times, and in the Dispatch that coach Ken Hitchcock is employing a different forechecking strategy than was used in the past.  I’ll skip the details here, but I noticed in the third period that instead of using the usual concept the Jackets sent one forward down low while the other four skaters lined up in the neutral zone to take away speed, passing opportunities, and also importantly (as we’d find out in the last two minutes) time.  Detroit forward Jiri Hudler scored a little over halfway through the third to make the score 3-2.  The popular saying in the sport is that “the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey.”  That said, I didn’t feel any better with a one-goal lead than I did with two.

As time was winding down in the game, the top line sprung an odd-man rush with Vyborny skating the puck down the left wing and former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov trailing down the slot awaiting the pass.  As they crossed over the blue line into the offensive zone, the crowd audibly gasped and everyone around me rose to their feet in anticipation.  The crossing pass left Vyborny’s stick into #91’s wheelhouse.  Fedorov let loose a Brett Hull-ish one-timer (almost down on his knee) that shot past Osgood inside the near post.  4-2 Jackets with under two minutes to go.

Before the crowd had an opportunity to settle down, Robert Lang scored his second of the night twenty seconds later to pull the Wings back to within one.  Chris Osgood skated to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:11 left in the game.  The Jackets worked hard to keep the puck out of the net in the last minute, with Rick Nash narrowly missing an empty net opportunity.  The final face-off with under twenty seconds to go saw the crowd standing on it’s feet and counting down the seconds from ten.  With less than five ticks to go, Fredrik Modin cleared the zone and the worries of the Nationwide crowd.

The final buzzer sounded, the crowd expressed it’s appreciation, and the Jackets skated out to goaltender Freddy Norrena to give the post-game head butt.  Columbus had faced a formidable opponent on national television, and won.  I’m not sure if they made believers out of anyone, but I can tell you that not only is this not the same Blue Jackets team of year’s past.  It’s all too obvious that something happened on November 22 that has made this hockey club much more respectable.

Thank you, Ken Hitchcock for taking a chance and coming to Columbus.  Thank you to the players for putting things together and playing better than the steaming pile of dung you had become by mid-November.  And thank you to the Columbus fans both in and out of the arena for supporting your team. 

It’s a constant battle of which comes first, the good team or the supportive fans.  Thirty days ago, the fans were showing signs that they were no longer going to support the pathetic product being put on the ice.  Changes were made, and the team effort started to produce more fan support.  17,046 made it out on a Monday night in December (also known as the busiest shopping day of the year depending on who you ask).  If the Jackets keep playing hard, the building will continue to fill and the demand will once again be sky-high for Blue Jackets hockey. 

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

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