Rick Gethin, Staff Writer
After being escorted from the confines of Joe Louis Arena for tossing his “Jason” mask on the ice following the Rick Nash hat trick and an 8-2 drubbing of the Detroit Red Wings March 7th, Columbus fan Matt Garrett seems to have started a Blue Jackets, dare I say, playoff tradition. The mask was tossed into the Jackets bench area (along with four hats) by the on-ice officials. The mask was brought home by the equipment staff, detailed and returned to Garrett on Tuesday for the game against the Boston Bruins, which Columbus ended up winning 2-0.
Fast forward to Thursday. In front of a franchise record crowd of 19,167 the Blue Jackets beat arguably the hottest team in the league, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in a shootout, 4-3. Amid the capacity crowd, there stood “Jason”, merrily taunting the roughly 4,000 Pens fans who made the three hour road trip.
Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock was honored in a pre-game ceremony by the Blue Jackets organization for joining that exclusive club coaches strive for, 500 wins. In attendance at center ice were Blue Jackets majority owner John P. McConnell, GM Scott Howson and Hitchcock’s friend of twenty-five years (and 500 win club member), former NHL head coach and Jack Adams Award winner Pat Burns. A rousing ovation was given to Hitch by the standing room only crowd.
The first 42 minutes of the game were pretty much owned by the Blue Jackets, with Huselius, Williams and Vermette notching goals against a tough Marc Andre Fleury in the Pens net. Then the “roller coaster” effect took place. Getting away from their style of play, the Jackets let up on the gas, making poor passes and not shutting down the neutral zone. The Penguins answered in quick succession, netting three goals (Gonchar, Dupuis and Talbot) in 3:25 to tie the game with eight minutes remaining. The Pens outshot the Jackets 19-4 in the 3rd. Tied now at the end of regulation, both teams seemed to play with a mix of passive aggression, neither scoring in overtime, forcing a shootout. The first two skaters for each team (Williams/Nash for the CBJ and Letang/Malkin for Pittsburgh) were stymied by the Blue Jackets Mason and the Pens Fleury, respectively. Kristian Huselius, the 3rd skater for Columbus went five hole on fleury to go one up. Crosby could have tied it again for the Pens, but CBJ goalie Steve Mason shut him down, preserving the win for the Blue Jackets and thus ending Pittsburghs 7 game win streak.
Once again, records were set inside the Blue Jackets club. Steve Mason pulled past Marc Denis’ record, garnering his 28th win. Over 1,000 standing room only tickets were sold, packing Nationwide Arena with a record 19,167 bodies. Antoine Vermette scored his first goal in Union Blue. The win gives Columbus a 4 point cushion over the trailing teams in the West and a point total of 76, one point behind Vancouver. Asked after the game about coming to Columbus and the feeling of a first-time playoff push, Antoine Vermette said:
“You talk about chemistry… we’re all on the same page.”
With very much a playoff atmosphere in the arena the last two games, the Columbus fans are tasting this feeling for the first time. The noise inside the arena last night was, at many times, deafening. You can only anticipate what this city will be like come April 11th when the Blue Jackets end the regular season and, for the first time, not have to dust off the golf clubs. Games are starting to sell-out more regularly and a palpable excitement hangs in the air. The “Believe Train” keeps movin’ on…
Confidence begets confidence, and this team has that in spades. So, too, do the fans. The coach had really only one complaint about last nights’ game. From the Dispatch:
“Somebody let in these other people today with the funny-colored sweaters,” Hitchcock said, referring to the thousands of Penguins fans. “And it screwed the sound up.”
Carry The Flag!!!