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Jackets fall just short of fifth tournament title

After scoring two quick goals, team couldn't fight off the Blackhawks rally

by Alison Lukan AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets scored two quick goals to start off the Championship game in Traverse City, Tuesday, but couldn't fight off the Chicago Blackhawks who charged back offensively to win the 2017 Prospect Tournament 3-2 in overtime.

"The boys competed and battled," head coach John Madden said. "But I didn't think our game was anywhere as good as our first two. No excuses though, Chicago played really well. We fed their transition game, we had a lot of turnovers at our blue line and red line. They have quick guys that feed on transition, and when you feed their game you make it easy for them. We made some mental errors tonight so hopefully we learn from it and move on."

The Blue Jackets came out with intention in the first period. In the first five minutes, they scored two goals on their first three shots.

First up, Vitaly Abramov passed the puck from center ice to Pierre-Luc Dubois who carried the puck down the right wing and to the right side of the net. The center backhanded a pass across the crease to Calvin Thurkauf who potted the first goal at 3:12. It was also his first goal of the tournament.

Less than two minutes later, Doyle Somerby carried the puck behind the net and passed to Paul Bittner who was set up to the right side of the net. Bittner's attempt was stopped, but the rebound went to Hayden Hodgson in the low slot who fired to make it 2-0 with his third goal in Traverse.

The Jackets would hold serve for the remainder of the period, surviving one penalty kill and six Blackhawk shots on goal in the final nine minutes. And the Jackets offense would continue to struggle after that.

The busiest Jacket in the second period was goaltender Ivan Kulbakov. The Belarusian faced 11 shots as his teammates fought to create sustained time in their offensive zone, managing just five shots of their own.

"I think our main thing is we had to get the pucks in deep and play in their zone," captain Jordan Maletta said. "Every time we had it below the tops of the circles we were using our size and speed effectively. We were trying to be too fancy, and it definitely cost us."

The Blackhawks pressure resulted in them tying up the game. First, 5:42 into the middle frame, Radovan Bondra fired a laser from the high slot to make it 2-1. Then in the final minute, an impressive individual effort by Alex DeBrincat resulted in him going bar down to knot the score at 2 a side.

The third period felt like a war of attrition. The Blackhawks fired off 10 more shots, all of which were stopped by Kulbakov. The Jackets added six attempts of their own, but regulation ended with the game still tied 2-2, and the two teams headed to overtime with Chicago holding the total shots advantage, 27-16.

The Jackets started with Gabriel Carlsson, Dubois and Thurkauf in the bonus frame and transitioned to their second unit of Sam Vigneault, Ryan Collins and Abramov. Both teams traded chances. But, 1:32 into overtime, DeBrincat capitalized with his second of the night on a rebound right in front of the net. The 39th overall pick in 2016 banged home the game winner and gave Chicago the Championship.

Kulbakov stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced.

"(Kulbakov) was on his game, he's always in it," Justin Scott said. "He gave us a really strong effort. Definitely can't blame him for any of those goals really."

Thurkauf (1-6-7) finished the tournament tied for second in overall points, Abramov (2-4-6) tied for third, and Bittner (3-2-5) tied for fourth. Kulbakov had the third best save percentage (.931) of any goaltender in the Tournament.

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