On November 29th, I wrote the following in this blog:
No guarantees, but mark this date down as the day the Jackets became a team, found some identity, and took a big step forward. Bravo!!!
The context of that quote was a 3 - 0 victory over the Washington Capitals at Nationwide Arena, against a Caps team that was decimated by injuries, in which Nash, Mason and Hejda were the 3 stars, and after which I declared that Mason was the starting goaltender, period.
Fast forward to tonight, when the Jackets pulled out their mirror and provided a bookend 3 -0 shutout of the Washington Capitals. However, this time it was on the road, at the end of a brutal 6 game coast-to-coast trek, and we were the team burden by injuries. Mason and Hejda were again stars, but there was no Nash to help them. Instead, Voracek, Filatov, Umberger, Tyutin, Boll, etc. came to the rescue for one of the most improbable wins in Bluejackets history.
As Hitchcock said after the game "I wouldn't want to play this club [the Capitals] again with this lineup." But looking at his face, both during the post-game press conference and on the bench as the clock wound down, you could tell that the quality of the effort he had just witnessed touched him in a way that we who are not part of that fraternity cannot understand.
We combined effort, good fortune, skill and guts to forge a win that evolved slowly but distinctly over three periods. We were horribly outplayed in the first period, but Mason stood tall, gave us hope, and the Voracek - Umberger tandem gave us a tenuous lead. The second period, customarily not a good one for us, found us asserting ourselves, creating space, depriving chances and giving Tyutin and MacDonald time to team up on another goal. Finally, we maintained composure in the third and Boll brought home a clinching power play goal in poetic justice, after the Caps earned a double minor borne of frustration. In between, there were Capitals shots bouncing off posts and crossbars, but more often caroming off of Mason harmlessly to the corner. He was other worldly.
+/- for the game:
+ Mason -- I hope that each member of the NHL All Star Game selection committee receives a DVD of this game. In the highly possible event that Luongo cannot start (and if I am a Vancouver exec, there is no way I let him go), then Mason should get the nod. Due to his age, and the fact that he is a Bluejacket and not a Blackhawk, it will likely be Kiprusoff, but we can hope. Too many highlight reel saves to count. His effort in the first period enabled a fidgety corps of forwards to find their legs and their confidence.
+ Special Teams -- When we had to have it, we got it. 2 for 6 on the power play, and a perfect penalty kill, including 40 seconds of 5 on 3. I can't think of a much scarier scenario than a 5 vs. 3 with Ovechkin one of the 5.
+ Opportunism -- We were grossly outshot-- 45 to 23, but cashed in on our opportunities for the most part. A couple of open nets early on escaped unscathed, but otherwise we took advantage of the opportunities we had.
+ Competetive Composure -- We took a clue from Mason, and kept our cool, were persistent, and played smart. Kudos to Boll for not dropping the gloves in the 3rd, and we were rewarded with a double minor that Boll cashed in for us. Nice!
+ Individuals -- Mason, Tyutin, Voracek, Filatov, Hejda, Umberger, Murray (not necessarily in that order). Could name the whole team, but these guys stood out. Once he got his legs, Filatov showed nice hustle and kept the puck moving on the power play and in their zone. Boll played the most controlled game of his career. Voracek was huge, as were Murray and Tyutin.
- Penalties -- A bit of a nitpick here, but we gave up 6 power plays to a team that you really do not want to do that with. However, see the next -
- Officiating -- Need to pull out the eye chart with the big E for this crew. A phantom tripping call went against us, and they missed a blatant offsides call that almost cost us a goal. Brashear should have gotten a major and a game misconduct. Good job not tagging Boll, and actually calling the cross check after the whistle against Picard.
Beating the Caps at home for only their 2nd (yes, 2nd) regulation home loss this season is an accomplishment for any team. Shutting them out -- twice -- in the same season is unbelievable. Doing it with a 20 year old rookie goalie and a lineup of more AHL players than NHL -- priceless!!!