We’re now 31 games into the NHL season, and an identity has been formed for this team. The Columbus Blue Jackets have proven that they cannot hold onto the lead – no matter how big.
If you called last night’s win the most embarrassing in franchise history, it would be hard to debate. In fact, the only other time I can ever recall being upset about this team winning a game, was last April when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a meaningless game that thrust them out of the best odds of landing the first overall pick at the NHL Draft.
Last night’s win in Toronto definitely ranks up there with that level of disappointment. Not because the Jackets are, or should be tanking – but rather, because they jumped out to a 5-0 lead in style. They went into the second intermission riding high, with a massive lead against one of the most skilled teams in the NHL. All four lines were playing pretty well. Elvis Merzlikins looked solid. It seemed like our night, finally.
Yet somewhere in my gut, something told me this one wasn’t over. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been stung one too many times by this team this season. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Toronto can score goals in a hurry. Maybe it was because it felt like a mirage – the Leafs were controlling a lot of the play, but weren’t getting saves. Ultimately, it was all of the above.
Toronto scored just 38 seconds into the period. Gulp. Then added another one at the 3:49 mark. Double gulp. The Jackets then pushed back and had some nice shifts, creeping back into the game. They even earned a power-play shortly after it became a 5-2 game. With six minutes remaining, and a three goal lead, it started to feel possible that they could escape this one. But alas, no, this is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Or should I say, BLEW (it) Jackets?
The Leafs scored at the very end of a late period power-play to make it 5-3. At that point, I said to myself: “we’re losing this game”. It sure felt like it. That’s the level of confidence I have in this team to play with the lead right now. They are so fragile, no matter how great they play in the first half of the game; that I completely expect them to lose.
Of course, with goaltender pulled, Toronto scored with 1:15 left – and again exactly 30 seconds later to tie the game. I don’t care how young a team is, or how new they are – when you have a 5-0 lead in the third period, you have to close that game out. You cannot let any team come back and tie it up, no matter how many star players they have. This is just unacceptable, and I have some thoughts on why it keeps happening…