The show put on by the WWE for Monday Night Raw in Nationwide Arena can be a tough act to follow.
But with the faint smell of pyrotechnic smoke and testosterone wafting through the air, Columbus Blue Jackets fans were treated to a 3-2 victory over their rivals, the Nashville Predators.
Defying expectations, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock went back to struggling goaltender Steve Mason in net against the Predators. After Mason gave up a soft goal to the Minnesota Wild in the Jackets’ last game, a 4-2 loss, Hitchcock was widely expected to give Mathieu Garon the start.
“It’s my decision. I like the way he reacted after the third goal,” Hitchcock said. “It was a bad goal and he knows it. We can keep bailing on people or ride it out.”
Mason, playing in his 100th career NHL game, justified his coach’s confidence with 29 saves.
The game opened as so many others have this season for the Jackets: With Columbus trying to find new and unusual ways to shoot themselves in the foot.
In the early minutes of the first period, Blue Jackets’ defenseman Jan Hejda passed the puck to line mate Mike Commodore; a nice thought. The only problem was that Commodore was no longer in possession of his hockey stick.
Commodore gamely tried to pass the puck soccer-style to a teammate with his skate, but the end result was a turnover deep in the Blue Jackets’ own zone.
In spite of the early miscues, Columbus fought the Predators to a draw in the first period. It was a victory of sorts for the struggling Jackets, who had given up a goal in the first four minutes of play in each of the last seven games. Mason had seven saves in the period.
The second stanza saw a boost in the action.
After Columbus forward Chris Clark drew a hooking penalty in the early minutes of the period, Mason was forced to make several spectacular saves during the ensuing Predator power play. One saw him dropping into the butterfly position as he made a glove save on a Nashville laser shot.
Center Derick Brassard broke the scoring deadlock at the 16:10 mark of the second period.
Columbus defenseman Milan Jurcina fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line in the Predator’s zone. The puck was re-directed by Brassard from the middle of traffic in front of the net and slid through the five-hole of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. OSU product R.J. Umberger also assisted on the play.
“I parked myself in front of the net,” Brassard said of the goal. “You get yourself there and good things can happen.”
Columbus continued the scoring in the third.
Following a hooking penalty on Nashville captain Jason Arnott, Jackets’ left-wing Kristian Huselius cashed in on the power play opportunity with his 16th goal of the season.
The goal came on a special teams’ play that would have pleased Hickory coach Norman Dale, of the Hoosiers movie fame.
While set up in their power play, Columbus made five crisp passes between each Jacket player on the ice, before Huselius took the shot and put the puck in the net.
Thirty-nine seconds later, Fredrik Modin extended the Blue Jackets’ lead to three, as Rinne lay helplessly on his back after a collision in front of the net.
The Predators bravely hung in, converting on two scoring chances as the third period winded down.
First Martin Erat beat Mason high and left with a wrist shot, and then Patric Hornquist drew Nashville to within one with a rebound goal.
The Jackets’ faithful began to get a little restless. They had seen this scenario before.
But Mason was up to the challenge as he withstood the onslaught of Predator shots to make the lead stand up and deliver the victory for Columbus.
Hitchcock was effusive in his praise of his goalie following the game.
“Our goalie was the best player on the ice and we needed him today,” Hitchcock said. “He can win games by himself.”
The Jackets’ coach confirmed that Mason will get the start again against the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night. With the Kings bringing a 4-1 record in their last five games, they’re sure to need another stellar game from him.