Saturday was a very good day for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After allowing Carolina to jump out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to the red-hot Jeff Skinner, the Blue Jackets hunkered down and played perhaps their best 40 minutes of the season. Brandon Saad led the charge and took the game away from the Hurricanes.
Saad took advantage of a sloppy Carolina turnover and had a breakaway. Charging in full-speed ahead, he made no mistake in burying a shot in the top, right corner of the net. The speed and confidence he showed on that play was a sign of the night ahead for Columbus.
Newcomer Sonny Milano, playing in just his second NHL game, later raced down the right-wing around Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin, and placed the perfect pass on the tape of Saad. Saad made no mistake in burying that from the slot to give Columbus a 2-1 lead.
That gave Saad his ninth-career multi-goal game. He had yet to get a hat trick though. Thanks to his buddy Alexander Wennberg, all of that changed.
Saad raced to the front of the net. Wennberg had the puck in the right corner and blasted the puck in front. The puck found Saad’s stick and went in. And there it was, Saad’s first NHL hat trick became reality. Not only was it a hat trick, it was a natural hat trick. That gives Saad 28 goals on the season, easily a new career high for him. He’s still just 23 years old. This was just one part of a fantastic night.
Boone Jenner emphatically joined the 30-goal club for the first time in his NHL career by scoring a power-play goal with .1 second left on the second-period clock. Cam Atkinson found Jenner in his office in front of the net. Jenner could not have been more wide open. The only question was if he beat the clock. Replay confirmed the goal, and it was smiles all around going in with a 4-1 lead.
To top the Blue Jackets night off, Oliver Bjorkstrand showed us again why his future is very bright. Bjorkstrand muscled his way past Brody Sutter, and from a sharp angle, powered a shot that Eddie Lack had no chance of stopping. Bjorkstrand recorded his third goal and showed flashes of what he might become.
The Blue Jackets skated away with a 5-1 victory, scoring five unanswered goals in a game for the first time since last April, when they beat Toronto 5-0. As it turns out, that was just the beginning of the fun for the Blue Jackets organization on Saturday night.
The Monsters Clinch A Playoff Spot
The Blue Jackets AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, also played on Saturday night. They played the Chicago Wolves in the second of back-to-back games. If the Monsters defeated Chicago, and San Diego later defeated San Jose, the Monsters officially clinch a Calder Cup playoff spot. The Monsters held their end of the bargain.
After a tight first 40 minutes which saw the Monsters and Wolves tied at one, Lake Erie exploded for three goals in the third period to win 4-1. Michael Chaput, T.J Tynan, and Josh Anderson all connected for goals, while Brad Thiessen made 25 saves to keep the win. Now could San Diego hold up their end of the bargain? You bet they did.
San Diego took a 3-2 lead into the third period, only to see San Jose tie it just 27 seconds into the period. Then San Diego took a strangle hold of the game, scoring twice in a 7:37 span, on route to their 5-3 victory over San Jose.
— Cleveland Monsters (@monstershockey) April 3, 2016
And there it was. The Lake Erie Monsters officially clinched a playoff spot for just the second time in franchise history. They now sit third in the Western Conference, just three points behind Milwaukee for second. The story here is how the youth performed.
Whether it’s been with Lake Erie or Columbus, the youth have shined. Bjorkstrand and Milano were each on fire at the time of their call-up. Current Monsters Chaput, Kerby Rychel, and Daniel Zaar have helped jump-start the offense. The defense got a huge shot in the arm thanks to adding Zach Werenski to the roster. The thing that isn’t getting enough attention is the play of backup goalie Thiessen.
Thiessen got into the Monsters lineup thanks to their other goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg both spending time in Columbus this season. All Thiessen has done is go 12-4-2 with a 1.95 GAA and .929 save percentage. He is the reason the Monsters are in the playoffs.
The youth movement is well underway in Columbus. So far, the early reviews are very positive. Although the Blue Jackets won’t take part in the NHL playoffs, the Monsters could go far in the AHL playoffs. Finally, there is meaningful playoff hockey in April in Ohio. That’s just the thing that will give some life to the fans desperately waiting for a winner.
Things are looking up for Ohio hockey in coming seasons.