There’s a phrase used in soccer, “parking the bus,” used when a team plays a frustrating brand of what’s labeled anti-football and has no real ambition to create any offense whatsoever. Saturday night in Raleigh, the Columbus Blue Jackets not only parked the bus, but removed the wheels, set it on cinder blocks and auctioned it off for parts.
It took Andrei Svechnikov 35 minutes to break through, but just like Thursday, that proved to not be enough for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Blue Jackets tied the game twice before winning in the fourth round of a shootout to give them four points on their trip to Raleigh, taking a 3-2 decision.
Up to the point Svechnikov scored, the game seemed to be headed to an inevitable shootout even from the start. Carolina’s best chance came early in the second period, when Nino Niederreiter’s perfect one-time shot from the top of the near circle was deflected out of play by Elvis Merzlikins. The Jackets had a flurry after Svechnikov’s goal that nearly saw Max Domi beat James Reimer with a deceptive wrister, but despite looking behind him Reimer made the save to keep the Hurricanes in the lead.
How snooze-inducing was the game? The most noteworthy play of the first half of the game was when Zach Werenski leveled Svechnikov with a clean hit, getting his stick stuck in Svechnikov’s gear and prompting snickers that Svechnikov, given his propensity for undeserved penalties, would be whistled for holding the stick. (He wasn’t, in a pleasant surprise.)
The Jackets tied it less than a minute into the third period when Oliver Bjorkstrand won a board battle, drew Reimer down and banked the puck off Dougie Hamilton’s leg into the net. Then Carolina had to survive a suboptimal sequence where Martin Necas went awkwardly into the boards while avoiding a check, gingerly skating to the bench but remaining there and not missing a later shift, followed by a Jordan Martinook slashing penalty that saw the Jackets nearly take the lead twice.
But survive they did, although not without some heartburn on consecutive chances by Kevin Stenlund, who split the defense, and Greg Robinson, who undressed Haydn Fleury and created a one-on-one down low with Reimer.
It wasn’t like the Blue Jackets were pouring on the pressure, but every chance they had seemed to be of the high danger variety. Domi almost gave them the lead with a shot that banked off the glass behind Reimer and nearly banked in off the goalie’s back as he spun around frantically to avoid the second odd deflection goal of the period.
Less than a minute later, Warren Foegele decided he had seen enough, tapping home the go-ahead goal pool-cue style on a scramble in front of Merzlikins. Hamilton earned an assist on the play, giving him assists in 11 straight games and tying Mark Howe for the franchise record in that streak.
Merzlikins headed to the bench with 2:00 remaining, and a minute into the extra skater situation the Jackets tied it again. Seth Jones was unchecked at the top of the circle from the same spot Slavin was denied in the second, sending the game to an overtime that very few wanted.
Martin Necas had a glorious opportunity to end the game a minute into the extra session, but Merzlikins robbed him with a highlight-reel glove save, causing Necas to look skyward in equal parts frustration and awe. Pesce then drew a high-sticking penalty on Jones, and Hamilton won it on a one-timer 30 seconds into the power play — or so they thought. Instead, the goal was reviewed for offside, and Carolina indeed entered the zone early, sending the Hurricanes back onto the ice and eventually into a shootout.
Hamilton scored in the shootout, but with what would have been the final shot Patrik Laine scored, sending it into extra shooters. In the fourth round Niederreiter missed and Bjorkstrand scored, leaving the Hurricanes with two points and two missed opportunities in the matchups in Raleigh.