In yet another Jekyll and Hyde performance this afternoon, the Blue Jackets offense did the damage in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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Not a misprint. The NHL's worst offensive team exploded for five goals and broke a listless streak (0-31) on the power play with Jason Chimera's game winner with 3:44 left. Nikolai Zherdev fired a one-timer through the legs of goaltender Mike Smith, and initially, he was credited with the goal. The puck deflected off Chimera's skate before trickling over the line, and the official call wasn't changed until after the game.
David Vyborny scored a "Vintage Vybs" goal midway through the first period as the Blue Jackets' power play expired--a soft worm-burner from the goal line that snuck under Smith's skate into the short side. It was good to see #9 remind us all what he used to do with time and space.
Derek MacKenzie, journeyman center and noted "plugger" since being called up from the AHL last week, scored his first NHL goal late in the first period as Smith was punished for playing the puck behind the net. Smith may have learned a lot about playing the puck from old mentor Marty Turco, but his performance as the third defenseman was borderline embarrassing this afternoon. On multiple occassions, Columbus forecheckers nearly stole the puck off his stick for would-be tap ins.
Continuing the trend of ending droughts, center Michael Peca scored his first goal in 26 games in the second period and gave the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead. Zherdev stole the puck in the Columbus zone and fed Peca a saucer pass in the slot, which he deposited to Smith's short side.
Jiri Novotny also ended a 20-plus game goal-less streak with his empty netter in the final minute.
The real star of the game (and mostly unnoticed) was defenseman Rostislav Klesla. Since taking on more responsibility in the locker room and being awared an "A," he has played the best hockey of his career. He was an astounding +4 on the afternoon and was a rock during Tampa's seven power plays, all of which were killed off.
Pascal Leclaire finished with 24 saves and had great control of his rebounds. Aside from Vincent Lecavalier's late second-period penalty shot, he was exceptional and made several key stops with his team shorthanded.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock used one word to describe his team's win: relief. After playing well in Western Canada and checking hard against the Oilers on Friday, he was pleased to see his team finally get rewarded for a solid effort.
The Blue Jackets return to Nationwide Arena on Friday night after four days off to play the surging Chicago Blackhawks. If that meeting is anything like the game the Blackhawks played against Edmonton this afternoon, the Blue Jackets might need respirators on the bench.
The next "Fire the Cannon" podcast will air on Wednesday at 7 pm.
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