Aftermath No. 40: San Jose
All the Blue Jackets wanted to do was give themselves a chance, take one game at a time and treat every remaining game as if it was Game 7. Here they stand with eight games to play, two points back of eighth-place Detroit and right in the smack dab middle of it.
They needed this one tonight, and were desperate to get back to playing "Blue Jackets hockey" after their trademark speed and forechecking went incognito in a 3-0 loss to Minnesota over the weekend. For as well as they had played - going 11-3-3 in the 17 games prior to Sunday's loss - they really didn't want one clunker to send them over the edge.
With a response like they put forth tonight, a 4-0 shutout win over a team that's been playing some solid hockey, the Blue Jackets took care of the only thing they can control. Are the remaining eight games must-wins? It wouldn't be far-fetched to suggest it, but for this group, the spotlight rests now on Friday night against St. Louis -- with their 3-1 loss at Scottrade Center fresh in their minds.
Much like we've seen during this two-month stretch, the Blue Jackets got some early energy from their fourth line and got the lead goal from a duo that's provided a fair amount of them; Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson did their thing below the goal line in the first period to get things started, and Calvert chipped in his eighth of the year to open the scoring.
And what did the Jackets miss without James Wisniewski in the lineup? For starters, that wicked cannon of a shot. His fifth made it a 2-0 game in the second period and Antti Niemi could only hear the puck float past him. Ryan Johansen's third goal of the year made it a three-goal advantage less than two minutes later, and the Jackets never looked back from there.
Sergei Bobrovsky earned his fourth shutout of the year and fourth of his career, and he had to be good at times in this one. His best stop was a point-blank rejection on Patrick Marleau in the third period that kept San Jose off the board and left them shaking their heads once again in Nationwide Arena: the Blue Jackets have out-scored the Sharks by a 10-2 aggregate in their two meetings in Columbus this season.
Let's break this one down.
1) NEED FOR SPEED: It was back tonight, and it was the first question asked of coach Todd Richards in his post-game press conference. What made it come back tonight? Richards gave full marks to the players in the locker room, who were not happy with their performance on Sunday and were eager to get right back on the horse tonight against a strong hockey team. Their hustle and tenacity on pucks was a problem for the Sharks all night long.
2) KEEP IT 5-ON-5: There was not a lot of special teams play in this game with only three power play chances combined. The Blue Jackets went 0-for-2 on the advantage and the Sharks came up empty on their only chance, but it was the even strength minutes that decided the hockey game. The Blue Jackets were the hungrier team, the more desperate team, and they buried the Sharks when given the opportunity. A "mercy pull" of Antti Niemi in the third period was the final straw for Todd McLellan's club tonight.
3) STEP BY STEP: Some folks think the Blue Jackets need to run the table to quality for the playoffs, and if that's the case, you can't run the table without winning the first one. Tonight was their biggest game of the season and the two points put them in a good spot heading into the final eight games. The next rung on the ladder is Friday night, and that's where the focus will be after a day off on Wednesday.