Tonight's 1 - 0 OT loss to the Chicago Blackhawks was a playoff caliber affair, a defensive struggle highlighted by the goaltending of Steve Mason and Nikolai Khabibulin. The two teams combined for only 45 shots over 63 minutes, 10 seconds of action, much of which took place along the boards and in the neutral zone.
While this was a tight-checking affair, it lacked the nastiness and brutality of, say, a Nashville game.
This was all speed and skill, positioning and strategy. A lightning chess match more than a wrestling match. Playing their second overtime game in under 24 hours, the Jackets started a step behind the Blackhawks, who are now in the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and looking to secure home ice advantage for Round 1. Once they got their legs, they more than kept up with the frantic pace at both ends of the ice. Particularly in the defensive zone, the Jackets were tenacious, and kept the highly talented Blackhawks at bay. When an untimely turnover or defensive lapse occured, there was Mason to shut the door. He was amazing all night, stopping some point blank opportunities, and enjoying the clearing support of his defenders. Even Versteeg's eventual game winner caught a lot of Mason, and Versteeg himself characterized it as "lucky."
Khabibulin, almost old enough to be Mason's father, was as crafty and resourceful as ever, and had to put a smile on Quenville's face as they proceed into the playoffs. Huet and Khabibulin have had their moments of intrigue this year, and if this signals a resurgence by Khabibulin, Chicago will be a force in the playoffs. He made an absolutely sick diving, shaft-of-the-stick save on Vermette in the 2nd, and squelched Russell's breakaway bid just before Versteeg netted the game winner.
While the Jackets were not quite "on" in their passing and execution in the offensive zone, definitely missing the skill of Huselius, they were tenacious and had their chances. This was just one of those nights where a little fatigue and a few breaks made the difference.
I know that these are critical games coming down the stretch, but I wonder whether this would have been a prime opportunity to give Filatov and his skill an opportunity? Hitch knows all, sees all, but still . . .
The usual +/- would not mean much tonight, as this was a taut, well-played game with a few lapses, a little gap in execution, but tons of desire, a boisterous crowd and 100% effort. That's all we can ask for. One note: How can we only have 15,947 in the house at this point in the proceedings?? C'mon people!!!
Since the Bluejackets seem intent on doing this playoff thing 1 point at a time, here is the latest playoff scoop:
- With another point (the 12th time in the last 14 games we have earned at least a point), we now have 90 (for the first time in club history), with 3 left to play, still in
- Anaheim lost to San Jose tonight, so remains in 7th with 88 points. They have only 2 games left, so we have a game in hand on them.
- Edmonton and Minnesota, with 83 points each and 3 games to play, have been eliminated from catching or passing the CBJ, as they each have a maximum point total of 89.
- Three teams remain with the possibility to catch the Jackets -- Anaheim, Nashville and St. Louis. All have a maximum possible point total of 92. Bottom line is this -- 1 win by the CBJ or 1 loss by Nashville, and we have clinched a playoff spot. 1 win puts us at 92, and we hold the tiebreaker over Nashville by virtue of our OT point last night. Even if both Anaheim and St. Louis win out, we would beat out Nashville on the tiebreaker.
- A record of 1 -1 -1 or better over the last 3 guarantees us 6th place, as we would have 93 points, and Nashville, St. Louis and Anaheim have a maximum total of 92.
A couple of days of rest coming up, which we can hopefully use to heal the wounds and gird up for the final sprint. First clinching opportunity comes on Tuesday night, when Chicago visits Nashville and St. Louis visits Phoenix. Anaheim doesn't play again until Friday, when they host Dallas, then travel to Phoenix for the finale on Saturday. We resume @ Chicago on Wednesday, catching them on the back end of the back-to-back, followed by @ St. Louis Friday and Minnesota here on Saturday. Any way you shake it, I am predicting an all time record crowd for this regular season finale!!]