BLUE JACKETS (24-17-7) 3, PREDATORS (16-23-9) 1
NATIONWIDE ARENA | COLUMBUS, OH
ATTENDANCE: 19,002 (SELLOUT)
The Blue Jackets took their fans and the city of Columbus on a remarkable ride since the calendar hit March, and unfortunately, it came up one point short.
But we'll get to that later, for there was a defining moment taking place on the ice tonight inside Nationwide Arena. Nashville arrived ready to spoil the party, too, closing out its season with little to play for outside of pride - and the Predators pushed the Blue Jackets to get going tonight with their season on the line.
After a sluggish start, the Blue Jackets turned it up in the meat of the first period, laying the body and making their presence felt in all three zones. Craig Smith of Nashville thought he had the game's opening goal eight minutes into the first period but he clearly booted it into the net, making for a quick decision from referee Tom Kowal. It looked to be the wake-up call that the Blue Jackets needed, too, and they out-shot Nashville 14-9 in the opening 20 minutes.
Yes, Shea Weber opened the scoring (for real) with a snappy wrister at 8:29 of the second period - but as they've done so often this season - they didn't blink. They kept coming and put 24 pucks on Chris Mason (who was terrific in the game), and finally dented him with 9:51 to play on a huge goal from Brandon Dubinsky. It was a nice drop feed from Marian Gaborik at the side of the net, curled to the front and whipped a backhander through Mason's pads to bring the arena to a din.
When Jack Johnson put the Jackets ahead 2-1 with 4:48 to play, banking a shot from the end line off Mason and in, the roof had to be secured. Columbus, with its back against the wall once again, found a way to get its game together and did so by sticking to what made it successful in a 19-5-4 run from the beginning of March.
And they would not have had a chance without their goaltender, who was nothing short of monstrous between the pipes for the Jackets. He made seven saves in a matter of seconds in the first period and made a lunging pad save on Rich Clune later in the opening period to save his teammates' bacon and keep the crowd roaring.
Bobrovsky finished with 19 saves - 10 of them after the opening 20 minutes as the Blue Jackets kept shooting the puck. They finished with a season-high 47 shots, which is their highest total since a loss in Phoenix last spring.
Dubinsky's goal was the fire starter and it was characteristic of what he's brought to the club this season: a gritty goal scored in traffic around the net with a Predators defenseman on his back. That got the Blue Jackets going and really revved up the rink, which had waited 50 minutes for a reason to cheer.
- Atkinson was tremendous tonight and the Dubinsky line did its job yet again. Comeau was flying, Atkinson nearly scored a breakaway goal to open the third period and Dubinsky engineered a 71 percent success rate for Columbus in the face-off circle on the night.
- Bobrovsky's final numbers on home ice this year: 12-3-5, 1.64 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. He's made his case for the Vezina Trophy without a doubt, and you'll find a lot of people around the league who think he's a candidate for the Hart Trophy (league MVP).
- The only thing Gaborik didn't do was score, but he was elite-player lethal tonight. His acceleration was on display, finding pucks in open ice and shooting nearly every chance he got. Gaborik put six shots on goal (most among all players) and played 18:55.
- Johnson and rookie defenseman Dalton Prout formed a solid pair together down the stretch, and they were both very good for Columbus in this game. Each played over 21 minutes, was a +1 and had opportunities to create offense. Johnson finished with five shots, most among all defensemen.