It was a tale of two goalies.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Steve Mason and the Dallas Stars’ Marty Turco did battle for three periods last night, with Columbus emerging victorious as they defeated the Stars 2-1 in the Jackets’ first game since the firing of former head coach Ken Hitchcock.
It was a hard-checking, grinding, defensive-minded game.
In short, it was just the kind of game Hitchcock would have loved.
Afterwards, interim coach Claude Noel spoke about what it was like going into his first-ever NHL contest as the boss.
“It was really nerve wracking for me,” Noel said. “I’m happy that the players were resilient and not carrying the nerve-wracked coach onto the ice with them.”
Both teams were active in the first period. The Blue Jackets had multiple scoring chances while putting seven shots on goal. The two teams would trade opportunities through the rest of the period.
Columbus defenseman Anton Stralman broke the stalemate with a slap shot from just a step in front of the blue line that Stars’ goalie Marty Turco was unable to get a glove on. Fredrik Modin and Ohio State product R.J. Umberger assisted on the goal.
The Jackets took the 1-0 lead it provided into the dressing room with them at the first intermission.
Columbus kept up the pressure as the second period unfolded, forcing Turco to make several difficult saves. The physical play between the two teams began to pick up noticeably all around the ice.
The increase in hard checking led to a scoreless second period. The third frame would bring more of the same physicality.
After a Jared Boll penalty for interference, the Blue Jackets’ penalty kill unit stood tall, led by captain Rick Nash. At one point, Nash made a flashy move with the puck before nearly cashing in on the short-handed goal. After he was leveled by a vicious check into the boards, he leapt back to his skates and somehow managed to regain control of the puck.
The sequence brought the mostly quiet Blue Jackets fans to their feet as they cheered the grit that has been so sorely lacking.
The game stayed in doubt until Umberger decided to put the finishing touch on his new coach’s first ever NHL win in dramatic fashion.
Umberger fought his way through two Dallas defenders and was shoved face-first into the ice just inside the Stars’ zone. As he slid on his belly towards the left circle, he extended his stick out just far enough to push the puck towards the goal, which was empty as Dallas had pulled Turco for an extra man advantage.
Dallas tacked on its only goal of the night with just under a minute remaining, but Columbus was able to hang on and send their new coach home a winner.
“So much has happened in the last two days, (Noel) wanted us to free our minds,” Umberger said from the dressing room after the game. “When we leave and drive home, he wants us to be proud of our efforts. It was about doing everything you can on your end.”