No matter how far a team has come and how many wins it has accumulated along the way, the last one is always the most difficult.
All that remains is one game for the Ohio High School Athletic Association's 66th boys hockey tournament championship, and it will take place Saturday evening at Nationwide Arena. Shaker Heights and Sylvania Northview advanced to the championship game after an day of exciting semifinal action that featured several lead changes, momentum swings and a thrilling comeback in the second match-up.
For both sides, it was a difficult day that included several obstacles on their way to the final dance. Shaker Heights rallied from two one-goal deficits (1-0 and 2-1) before taking over the game early in the third period, obtaining its first lead of the day at 6:30 of the third period on a clutch goal from Jacob Shick.
John Longman added an insurance tally with 1:01 remaining in regulation for the 4-2 final.
In the second semifinal, local club Olentangy Liberty was bidding to become the first Columbus-area school to ever play in the championship game, and they got off on the right foot.
The Patriots scored the first two goals of the hockey game and looked to be in good stead, but Sylvania Northview put its collective rally caps on. From 2-0 down, Northview completed the comeback five minutes into the third period and scored an empty-netter with less than a second to play, sealing a 4-2 victory and a berth in the final.
Saturday's championship game will take place after the Blue Jackets play the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena, and face-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will air tape delayed on SportsTime Ohio on Sunday, Mar. 10 at 4 p.m.
Blue Jackets broadcaster Bob McElligott will have the play-by-call game for the contest with John Mowat providing color analysis.
All of a sudden, here we are at the midway point of the NHL season.
The Blue Jackets, scuffling a bit and frustrated with a lack of results just a fortnight ago, have found some confidence and are playing a determined brand of hockey. They've won three straight after tonight's 2-1 overtime defeat of the Vancouver Canucks, and have picked up at least one point in five consecutive games.
Of course, things may change between now and the time you actually read this, but as I type, the Blue Jackets sit four points back of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Seems crazy to think, given where they were not too long ago, but in talking with players after the game, they feel like they've turned a corner.
And it's not purely results-driven, either; Matt Calvert (tonight's overtime hero) talked at length about what it takes for a young team to win consistently, and to do the necessary things on a nightly basis so they learn how to close games out. The best teams in the NHL are both hard-working and opportunistic, and often times one can be a by-product of the other.
The Blue Jackets have shown an opportunistic nature lately, and it's been fun to watch. Given chances to put games away, they've done so. Think back to Sunday afternoon against the Avalanche; Colorado turns the puck over in neutral ice, the Blue Jackets draw a penalty and then win the game on that power play.Get the full breakdown of tonight's OT win inside this blog post!
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The National Hockey League today moved one step closer to implementing a new realignment plan for its 30 member clubs.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr announced that the players' union has given its consent for the NHL to proceed with its proposed realignment plan. According to reports, the plan calls for two eight-team divisions and two seven-team divisions, would send the Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference beginning with the 2013-14 NHL season if approved by the league's Board of Governors.
As part of the realignment plan, the Blue Jackets would compete in an eight-team division along with the following teams: the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the Players' Association's consent in a statement issued this evening.
"The NHL Players' Association confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised Plan for Realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season," Daly said. "Our next step will be to bring the proposed Plan for Realignment to the NHL Board of Governors for its consideration. We will update the status of the process as future developments warrant."
The Stanley Cup Playoffs format would reportedly still consist of 16 teams (eight in each conference) but the NHL is proposing a wild card system in which the top three teams in each division make the playoffs and the remaining spots filled by the two teams in each conference with the next best record.
Here are the divisional breakdowns for the entire NHL under the new plan, as first reported by Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada:
1) Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
2) Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
1) Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
2) Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
More details on on the proposed realignment plan can be found here. Stay tuned to BlueJackets.com for further updates on this story as it develops.
9:45 A.M. -- LET'S DO THIS: We're back! Just 48 hours after we got the last blog up and running, the Blue Jackets morning skate is about 10 minutes away on Nationwide Arena ice. The Vancouver Canucks are in town and I suspect they'll be an angry lot tonight, having dropped five straight games (0-4-1) and losing their firm grasp on top spot in the Northwest Division.
The Minnesota Wild are just three points back and closing fast, while the Canucks are desperate to pick up some points. They'll start Roberto Luongo tonight against the Blue Jackets, and I pointed out in today's preview that it's a little surprising given Cory Schneider's track record of success against Columbus in his career.
I'm headed downstairs to catch the skate, so make sure you stay tuned right here for the latest news, lineup and injury updates, photos, contests and more as we roll along on game day.
This may be the first meeting of the season between the Blue Jackets and Canucks, but the two clubs are certainly familiar foes.
Even though they face each other just four times per season (and three times in 2013 due to the shortened schedule), there always seems to be an element of anticipation when they get together. Call it bad blood, call it general rivalry-ish behavior, but the Blue Jackets and Canucks don't seem to like each other very much, and both sides are okay with that.
As we get set for Thursday's game at Nationwide Arena, we're looking at two teams headed in completely different directions. The Blue Jackets, so often on the wrong end of one-goal games, have strung together a four-game points streak and have won back-to-back games after a 4-3 shootout win on Tuesday over the Edmonton Oilers. On the flip side, Vancouver has hit a rough patch and can't separate itself from the Minnesota Wild just three points back in the standings.
The Canucks are 0-4-1 in their last five games, and the Blue Jackets are suddenly 3-2-2 in their past seven contests. Hard to tell which way this one will go (most likely because I have no bearing on the result), but my gut tells me we'll watch an entertaining hockey game between two very competitive teams tonight at Nationwide Arena.Get tonight's "three keys" to success for the Jackets inside this blog post.
Brandon Dubinsky, sitting in his locker stall after an afternoon practice at Nationwide Arena, was troubled to hear of former teammate Marc Staal's frightening injury last night at Madison Square Garden.
It's something that players, coaches and fans dread and hate to see: a player who is seriously hurt and possibly has his long-term health put at risk by a freak accident in a hockey game. Staal, a star defenseman for the New York Rangers, took a deflected shot to his right eye in the third period of last night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The scene was hard to watch with Staal writhing in pain on the ice as medical staff rushed to assist him, and elsewhere in the NHL, it sparked conversation of visors in the NHL.
This generation of hockey players coming into the professional ranks is required to wear visors, and in some cases, full cages if playing in the U.S. college hockey system. Canadian major junior hockey governing bodies require the use of visors and they are now mandatory in the American Hockey League, but in the NHL, it still remains a player's decision.
Dubinsky, who wore a visor while playing for the ECHL's Alaska Aces during the lockout, went back to his visor-less preference when the NHL season began in mid-January. He's now in his seventh NHL season and, though he doesn't have a particular reason for not wearing one, admitted that he's entertained the idea of adding a shield.
"I can't tell you why I don't wear one, to be honest with you," Dubinsky said after practice today. "To me, as stupid as it sounds and there's not really an explanation for it...growing up watching the NHL, nobody wore visors and it was cool. That's just sort of the way it was."Read today's full story on visors & player safety inside this blog post.
Sergei Bobrovsky was solid upon entering tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers, but he waited until the most critical juncture to make one the most important saves of the year for the Blue Jackets.
It was an unfortunate penalty on Nick Foligno, and one that the NHL and its referees are watching closely this season: Foligno went down behind the net in overtime and closed his hand on the puck in an attempt to move it forward, but referee Marc Joannette spotted the violation from the side of the net, and it gave the Oilers a 4-on-3 power play with the hockey game in the balance.
Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu and Fedor Tyutin were the three penalty killers for the Blue Jackets, who had to deal with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle on the man advantage -- not exactly a cakewalk two minutes, one might say.
Bobrovsky, who made 18 saves in regulation, added a game-changer on Eberle in overtime: Nugent-Hopkins slid a pass through the box to Eberle at the back post, and though it looked like he had an open net, Bobrovsky got across and made a save that got his teammates fired up on the ice and on the bench.
"It was huge for momentum...huge," Anisimov told BlueJackets.com. "It's not easy to play 4-on-3, and it's not easy to defend. The first save...that was nice, big for us. It's a tough play for me because it's back-door and there's a guy up high, too. I couldn't catch him with my stick.
"Bob made that save and I'm like 'yes, we're still in this.' It was great."Read the full story on Bobrovsky's big night inside this blog post.
A coach has a small number of cards to play, and one of them is changing the goaltender. Sometimes it works, and others it doesn't -- and it's definitely not a guarantee.
Todd Richards didn't like the pair of goals allowed by Steve Mason late in the first period and early in the second period, but he also acknowledged that his team was rather sloppy in its own end, leading to several chances for the Edmonton Oilers. When facing a skilled, aggressive team like the Oilers, those small mistakes are exponentially magnified.
When the Blue Jackets fell behind 3-2, it was a major turning point: Richards installed Sergei Bobrovsky in the net and despite coming in cold, he steadied the ship and made some game-saving stops along the way. Teams need that on occasion, and Bobrovsky was very sharp in relief tonight.
He did not allow a goal in regulation, overtime or the shootout -- and it was a catalyst for the Blue Jackets' second consecutive win.
Vinny Prospal was very good tonight, with a goal and an assist to along with energy throughout the contest. In his first game back from an upper body injury, Jack Johnson scored the tying goal in the third period and played nearly 27 minutes in all situations -- not bad for a guy getting back on the ice for the first time since a loss in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago.Get full analysis of tonight's shootout win inside this blog post!
GETTIN' STARTED EARLY: So I haven't moved on to from the thrilling finish to Sunday's game yet...which is why I've included video of Anisimov's game-winner against Colorado for you to enjoy one more time. Or 47 more, if you wish. It's up to you to re-live the #ArtyParty.
The Blue Jackets are in the midst of a stretch that sees them play nine of 10 at Nationwide Arena, including four straight - and the second of those four is tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, a team desperately seeking a victory. The Oilers have dropped back-to-back games and in disappointing fashion; they let a 2-0 lead in St. Louis get away from them on Friday, and Sunday in Minnesota, let a pair of quick third-period goals by the Wild derail them.
We'll continue to keep this page fresh with links, pertinent information, photos and interviews as we roll along toward game time. Keep it tuned to CBJ Today and this game day blog.
If it happens on game day, we'll have it right here.
The Blue Jackets have been looking for consistency and results after struggling through a stretch of hard-fought, one-goal contests. The first step in the right direction came Sunday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche, a pesky team that likes to push the pace on its opponents.
Not unlike the Avalanche are the Edmonton Oilers, who possess world-class skill on their top two lines and aren't afraid to open the game up and beat teams on the counterattack. They have learned to play a more patient and responsible game under first-year head coach Ralph Krueger, but have struggled in their past two games with giving up leads.
Edmonton held a 2-0 lead on Friday night in St. Louis and went into the third period tied 1-1 with Minnesota on Sunday, and lost both games by an identical 4-2 final. In the midst of a season-long nine-game road trip (thanks to men's curling championships being held at Rexall Place), the Oilers are well aware that they can either climb the playoff ladder or fall out of reach pending the outcome of this trip.
Looks as if Devan Dubnyk will carry the load in net for the Oilers, especially with Nikolai Khabibulin on the shelf with a groin injury. Dubnyk is expected to get the call tonight against the Blue Jackets, while it's possible Columbus will go back to Sergei Bobrovsky.Check out tonight's "three keys" to success for the Jackets inside this blog post.