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Jackets riding on thin ice after loss to Chicago

In days gone by, a Saturday afternoon matinee conjured images of a relaxing day spent in the company of a few close friends.


If you were among those 18,738 friends in attendance at Nationwide Arena for Saturday’s Columbus Blue Jackets’ matinee game against the Chicago Blackhawks, you were treated to anything but relaxation.


The Jackets’ offense looked a little livelier, but the fans were treated to the same, tired result as Columbus fell to Chicago for the second time in three days, 6-5.


“[Today] is our season,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of his team’s play. “We’re right there, we’re close. We are a very competitive hockey club, but we make errors.”


The Jackets looked sharp in the opening minutes of play, subjecting Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet to a fusillade of shots as play concentrated in the Blackhawks’ zone.  


Huet handled each shot in turn, then Andrew Ladd sucked the wind from Columbus’ sails by scoring at the 2:29 mark of the first period.


Ladd won the battle for the puck in the corner behind the Jackets’ goal, and put a shot on Columbus goaltender Steve Mason. Mason deflected that shot, but Chicago star Marian Hossa collected the rebound and fired again at Mason. Mason made another save, but Ladd had wrapped around the net and was in position to deposit the second rebound for the score.


Five minutes later, Chicago lit the lamp again with a Troy Brouwer wrist shot from the left circle off a beautiful pass from Patrick Kane, to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.


The two teams traded goals, first Columbus’ Kristian Huselius and then Hossa for the Blackhawks, before Jackets’ captain Rick Nash decided to take matters into his own hands.


Nash, scoreless for a career-high 11 games, put back a rebound off a shot from Ohio State product R.J. Umberger following a Chicago turnover in their own zone. The goal allowed Columbus to go into the dressing room down only a single score.


The second stanza belonged to Columbus.


Kris Russell kicked off the second period scoring with a wrister from the left circle that beat Huet high to the glove side to tie the game at three apiece.


Nash followed that score up with a power-play goal from the opposite side to give Columbus its last lead of the afternoon. Huet smashed his stick in frustration against the post. His anger would then give way to icy determination as he deftly deflected all of the Blue Jackets’ shots for the remainder of the second period and through most of the third.


The struggling Mason, making his first start in six games, was unable to make the lead stand up under the flurry of Chicago shots in the third period.


In rapid succession Blackhawk center Jonathan Toews, then left-winger Ben Eager and then Toews again scored to give Chicago a two-goal advantage.


“Obviously it was tough,” Mason said of his performance. “All you can ask of yourself is to keep working through it. There are a couple of tough goals I’d like to have back, but it’s too late for that now.”


Raffi Torres tried to bring Columbus back with a goal with just under three minutes remaining in the game. He broke away from two Blackhawk defenders, took a gorgeous up-ice pass from Umberger, and beat Huet to pull the Jackets to within one. 


But the Blue Jackets were unable to capitalize, and after a fast-paced, entertaining game, Columbus fans went home frustrated again.


Nash mirrored that frustration in the dressing room after the game.


“We are sick of [losing], just like our fans are, just like everyone in the city is,” Nash said. “We are trying our best to correct it and we are showing spurts of fixing it, but we have to get better.”


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