With Ken Hitchcock and the Blues coming into Nationwide Arena for the first of six meetings this year, a lot of storylines were raised, including his return meeting with his former club in Columbus, the Kris Russell / Nikita Nikitin trade, and the continued bad blood between the two Central Division franchises, and it seemed that each storyline would have a moment to shine tonight.
On the whole, Hitchcock's presence was felt from the drop of the puck to the final whistle, with St. Louis playing a very resolute defensive game around netminder Brian Elliott, particularly in its commitment to shot blocking and winning key faceoffs. It all meant this game had a rather glacial pace to it, with both sides frequently chasing the puck rather than able to set up much offensively.
The first period could be best described as "feeling out", with neither side taking big risks in the first few minutes. Each side began warming to the attack and generating some solid chances by the end of the frame, with St. Louis dominating the chances in the final few minutes. But Elliott and Curtis Sanford had all the answers they need to go scoreless into the intermission.
After the Jackets were given an early opportunity on the power play and failed to convert, Columbus would crack the scoring puzzle when Samuel Pahlsson took the puck away from Alexander Steen and made a perfect pass to Derek Dorsett behind the St. Louis defense for a breakaway, which he buried with a perfect low glove side shot on Elliott.
Through the period the Blue Jackets attempted to extend their lead, but some bad passes and just plain bad luck marked several attempts. St. Louis also made some nice defensive efforts, including a diving shot block by former Jacket Kris Russell on R.J. Umberger.
With time winding down after both sides failed to connect on power play opportunities, the Jackets and Blues found themselves in 4 on 4 hockey after a hooking call to Jeff Carter and an answering mark for Matt D'Agostini. With less than fifteen seconds left in the period the Blues broke into the Columbus zone, where Antoine Vermette was unable to keep up with Steen as he drove to the net. Steen got clear, fired a shot on net that caromed off Sanford, and the Columbus defense failed to pick up the rebound that came to none other than Kris Russell, who was pinching in on the play. Russell buried his chance, hammering the puck home for the tying goal.
With the Jackets unable to break the tie when they took an abbreviated power play to start the third frame, Cody Bass would call out Ryan Reaves for what he felt was a questionable hit from earlier in the game and goad him into dropping the gloves. Circling each other for a good 30 seconds before finally engaging, Bass would unload several nasty bombs before losing his balance and falling to the ice.
If the fight was intended to pump up the Blue Jackets, however, it failed to achieve that goal. The next five minutes would belong decisively to St. Louis, with the Blues turning up the offensive pressure before drawing a hooking penalty on Fedor Tyutin.
On the ensuing power play, the Jackets PK held out for over a minute, but T.J. Oshie got a shot on net. Derek Dorsett lost his coverage on David Backes, who was waiting for the puck to tip it past Sanford for the 2-1 lead. The goal, St. Louis' first goal with the man advantage since November 15th, broke an 0-22 streak on the power play,.
The Jackets attempted to equalize again, including another power play opportunity when Ian Cole was boxed for hookin. But St. Louis won several key faceoffs with the man advantage, denying Columbus a chance to set up their offense while Elliot delivered key saves against Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen.
As time wound down, the Jackets pulled Curtis Sanford for the extra attacker, but Elliott held his crease and stood up to the Columbus attempts, preserving the win and giving his head coach a bit of bragging rights for their remaining meetings this season.