After the Jackets swept the President’s Trophy winning Lightning out of the first round many wondered how the club would perform against a bigger and more physical team like the Boston Bruins. Through three games, the Jackets are beating them at “big boy” playoff hockey.
The Blue Jackets are proving once again that good, simple and straight ahead hockey is tough to beat once the calendar turns to April. The Jackets aren’t running a fancy system or a New Jersey Devils esque neutral zone trap. Columbus is playing good hockey in its simplest form. There’s more physicality but the Blue Jackets aren’t pummeling their opponent into submission. They’re suffocating them and swarming the puck when they don’t have it and they’re driving it to the net when they do.
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno was asked about the style of play in the series and he offered some good insight.
It’s awesome, he said. It’s not tough. It’s awesome. This is what you envision playoff hockey to be. The hardness of it, the compete from everybody. You get hit, you hit them, sticks are flying, punches. That’s what it is. It’s fun. It’s what you dream about as a player and it challenges you as a player. You have to be hard all game long and you cannot let up for one second.
For the first time in the series, the Blue Jackets would strike first courtesy of Boone Jenner. His goal late in the first period was a beautiful individual effort, as he entered the zone on the right side, cut back to the middle to separate a little bit from Bruins’ defenseman Connor Clifton, then fired the puck back across to his right and beat Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and sent Nationwide Arena into a frenzy.
It was awesome, Foligno said of Jenner’s play. I thought Booner played unbelievable. He’s tailor-made for playoff hockey. He thrives in this, and just the way he competed on pucks and skated — that’s the best I’ve seen him skate, the way he held on to things and created opportunities for himself and his linemates. What a goal he scores, too. You need that. He’s a leader for a reason. He drives the engine and he definitely did that tonight.
Jenner’s effort wasn’t lost on his head coach, either.
That’s the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here, at a very important time obviously, John Tortorella said. We’re getting a lot out of that line, and he’s leading the way. He makes a couple of huge blocks at the end. There is no maintenance to him. I’ve bounced him around — on the power play, off the power play, bounced him around on different lines. He just plays. For some of our young guys, they don’t need to look too far as far as what a pro is. They just need to look right there at his stall.
With 9:11 left in the second period and the score still 1-0 Columbus, Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand let his frustration get the best of him. With Jenner approaching Marchand to deliver a check in the corner, he lifted his arms and struck Jenner in the mouth with his stick, which earned him a minor penalty.
Game two hero, Matt Duchene made it 2-0 on the ensuing power play at 12:42 of the second period, scoring on a rebound from a shot by Foligno. The goal came with seven seconds remaining in the penalty, and the Blue Jackets kept the puck in the offensive zone for the final 1:27 of the power play.
That was almost like a 5-on-5 shift, guys falling everywhere, battling, said Duchene, who has five goals in the playoffs. Just shooting pucks and grinding for a goal. All five guys on the ice contributed big time to that goal.
At 19:20 of the second period the Bruins would finally solve Sergei Bobrovsky when Jake DeBrusk scored to make it 2-1 when he stuffed in a shot at the left post. It was called no goal on the ice, but after video review it was determined that the puck crossed the line after the whistle on what was ruled to be a continuous play. It was the Bruins first goal in over 101 minutes of game action.
If the Bruins weren’t already experiencing some frustration, I imagine it began to set in when forward Noel Acciari hit the left post from the high slot at 5:11 of the third period. It was one of two posts and a crossbar on the evening for the Bruins.
I still think we had enough good looks to win the game, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. We hit two posts and a crossbar. [Bobrovsky] stopped a lot of other good ones. Clearly we’d love to get into the slot a little more.
The Bruins got their second and final power play of the game at 11:18 of the third period when David Savard tripped Marchand, but 17 seconds later it was negated when Patrice Bergeron tripped Josh Anderson. It’s the second straight game that Bergeron has taken a killer penalty for the Bruins.
We wanted to stay on the attack and not get on our heels, Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson said. They’re going to have surges. They’re a good team, but the guys out their stood on their heads, did a good job, and [Bobrovsky] made some great saves.
Marchand punctuated the Bruins frustration by throwing a cheap shot to the back of Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington’s head. Down 2–1 in the series with the next game in Columbus, Marchand has once again devolved into the defiant villain, Bergeron has taken back-breaking penalties and Pastrnak’s play has him edging closer to the end of their bench. The Blue Jackets have already buried away Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman’s dazzling regular seasons. Time is running out, and Boston’s Big 3 is creeping toward a similar fate.
We need to respond. They were outhitting us pretty good here, and it felt like it. We need a pushback. The number of hits they had means we had the puck a lot, so that’s one of the positives, but we need a pushback, said DeBrusk.
Columbus goes into Game 4 with an opportunity to take a stranglehold in the series.
I want them to be as excited as they possibly can be tonight, Tortorella said after the game. They have the right to be. For the next few hours, damn right you should feel 10 feet tall, but we come back to the building (Thursday) and we get back to work.
The Blue Jackets will play their first ever hockey game in May on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena, and you can count on the “5th line” to show up in full force.