Had this game not been for Hitch's 500th win in the NHL, and had it not been in Toronto, the cradle of Hockey, I'm not sure we would have had the spark to pull this one out. The boys found enough gas in the tank to grab another 2 points, and really put themselves well in the thick of things. (More stats, playoff data, etc. in my Friday Factoids piece later today)
First, let's briefly talk about Hitch. The 13th coach in history at the 500 win plateau, and a winning percentage better than most of them. In Columbus, he has shown what can be done and how hockey should be approached. We have spent several years bitching and moaning about the trades, the drafts, the free agent signings, when our real problem was the presence behind the bench and the lack of a system. Sure, could a few deals have gone differently? Absolutely. But we could have signed the illegitimate child of Wayne Gretzky and Katarina Witt, and it would not have made a bit of difference without a system to fall back on. Ken Campbell put out a nice piece on Hitch the other day at THN, which you can find here . You know he would like to have had #500 at home, but he has to not-so-secretly love the fact that #500 came in Toronto. Well done, Hitch!!
The game itself was not an artistic effort by either club, so let's go straight to the +/- to figure it out:
+ Tenacity -- I may not have seen a game this year when the Jackets were that slow on their feet, particularly in the first 18 minutes of the 1st period. They were an exhausted boxer, slightly ahead on points, hanging on for dear life. But as they have so many times of late, they picked it up a bit with about 2 minutes left in the 1st, got that great goal from Nasher with 0.7 left. Came out well in the 2nd, but faded toward the end, giving up two goals that looked more in place at a beach volleyball game than a hockey game. Finally took some measure of control in the 3rd, getting that key tying goal from Juice early.
+ Players -- Everybody left it out there last night, but Mason, Nash, Juice were huge. Peca was strong and got robbed on a nifty little backhander that nailed the crossbar. Malhotra and Voracek were solid. Boll, Murray and Torres did a lot of dirty work in keeping the puck alive.
- Skill -- When you are that tired, it is just a matter of getting through it. Puck handling, anticipation, forget about it . . . This was done on pure adrenaline and guts.
-Officiating -- "Three Blind Mice" should have been the fight song last night for the ice borne zebras. Wow, they were bad. How Toronto doesn't get called for knocking the net off when we are in scoring position is a mystery. Some ticky-tack holding and interference calls on us, and the same conduct was overlooked when the Leafs were involved. OK, black helicopter crew, I'll say it : "Toronto strikes again!"
By the way, kudos to all the Jacket Backers who showed up at the R Bar last night for the game. A good time was had by all. Those who caught the 11:00 PM news on Channel 10 last night got a glimpse of some of us, and a more expanded piece, including an interview with Jacket Backers President Julie Maurer, will air on Saturday.
66 points in 59 games, taking full advantage of the post-All Star break home schedule, two consecutive home/road back to back sweeps. Wow! Go Jackets!