The omens were in the air yesterday. An ice storm bearing down on the Midwest, threatening travel plans. The stock market tanking . . . then recovering a bit. James Wisniewski delivering a soliloquy on how losing — no matter what the effort — was unacceptable. And then the game began . . .
18 seconds in. Turnover. Goal. 1 -o Red Wings. 2:40 in. Shot. Rebound. Bad bounce. Deflection. Goal. 2 -0 Red Wings, and my wife and I exchanged glances, telepathically suggesting “1 more goal and we’re turning on the Top Chef episode we recorded . . . “ Detroit had energy and pace, while Columbus had the deer in the headlights look. Then, at the 4:23 mark the Blue Jackets exert some pressure on the power play, and it’s now 2-1. The remote goes back on the end table, the Twitter feed slows to 80 mph, and attention focuses on the game, which then turned into a reasonably entertaining affair, with relatively equal opportunities, some nice saves, and decent flow. The Blue Jackets found their legs, and leveraged the return of Cam Atkinson to more frequently enter the zone with possession and speed. By the early second period, it appeared that Columbus had at least leveled the ice, and arguably had grabbed a share of the momentum. Then time stopped.t
Those who have been sports fans for any length of time are unfortunately familiar with the feeling that accompanied the initial viewing of those images. We’ve seen it before — on the football field, the race track, other hockey games. Anisimov was eerily still for what seemed like forever, and the later word that he had never lost consciousness somehow made the scene even more surreal in retrospect. The silence of the crowd . . .John Davidson’s grim visage as he worked his way to the ice . . . all of the signs suggested this was not a story that was going to end well. The closest comparison was the stunned silence at Miami University’s Goggin Arena when Blue Jacket’s prospect Will Weber sustained a nasty gash to the throat in a CCHA game in Oxford. That Anisimov is out of the hospital and on his way back to Columbus for further evaluation seems almost miraculous, and serves as another reminder of the speed, power and danger inherent in the game, which we all take for granted.
As Anisimov was taken off, Todd Richards circled the troops — undoubtedly trying to restore calm and focus. While the game seemed almost irrelevant at this point, the prospects for a Columbus rally seemed dim. On the road. Against Detroit. A three-game losing streak. A devastating loss to a key player — and perhaps worse. “Win one for the Gipper” works in the movies, but not in real life, right? Didn’t history teach us that the Blue Jackets fold up and disappear under these circumstances?
History has apparently not been introduced to this club. The Blue Jackets picked up where they left off. They navigated the balance of the second period at a stand-off, with Sergei
Bobrovsky standing tall to negate the few real threats that Detroit posed. Indeed, for much of the game, it seemed that Jordin Tootoo was Detroit’s most effective weapon. He agitated, irritated and assaulted the Columbus players — eliciting precisely the responses and ill-advised penalties that he hoped to obtain. Only a fiendishly effective penalty kill kept Tootoo from being the game’s deciding factor. That, and the Blue Jackets’ own agitator, Derek Dorsett. Last night’s game provided all of the reasons that I find Dorsett to be such a frustrating player. On the one hand, he hustles, creates opportunities and does things like the Gordie Howe Hat Trick he pulled off in Howe’s House last night. On the other hand, he allows himself to be goaded into stupid penalties — at precisely the wrong time — squanders opportunities and is frequently less than diligent in the defensive zone. It was all on display last night, but at the end of the evening, the pluses outweighed the minuses.
Five minutes into the final stanza, Dorsett found himself on the front porch as Brassard worked his way off the half-wall, across the middle, and put a backhand on net. Dorsett did a nice job of finding and cashing in the rebound, making it a tie game. In the meantime, Nikita Nikitin and Adrian Aucoin enjoyed their best games of the season, helping to keep the Red Wings off the board. Just as Blue Jackets fans were about to exhale, figuring they had secured a point by taking the game to overtime, time stopped once again. Wisniewski blocked Brunner’s shot in the defensive zone, then hit Dorsett with the outlet pass. Suddenly, a seemingly harmless transition turned into a full-fledged three-on-two, with Prospal driving the middle, Dorsett with the puck on the right wing, and Wisniewski on the left. As he entered the zone, Dorsett sent a cross-ice pass to Wisniewski’s stick. Wiz, in turn, found Prospal unmolested at the edge of the crease. Howard guessed forehand, but Vinny spun and put a backhand in the near corner with 25 seconds left in the game. What had started off as an apparent disaster had transformed to one of the more memorable victories in the franchise’s brief history.
This is not a game to dwell on statistics. It’s simply one to relish, and to be thankful that the worst fears for Anisimov were not realized. It’s a maddening, beautiful and scary game sometimes, and last night it was all three.