As the All-Star Break approaches, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators were in the unusual position of wrapping up their divisional series in January, with the final matchup of the season taking place in Bridgestone Arena.
With the Blue Jackets suffering a litany of injuries that has almost $19 million dollars in payroll on the IR, the team had some good news in the return of R.J. Umberger, who had missed five games after suffering a concussion, while the Predators welcomed back Ryan Suter, though his place on the sick list was taken by Francis Bouillon.
From the start, the home club was on the attack, dominating the depleted Columbus defense and forcing Steve Mason to make a dozen saves in the first period, while the visitors mustered only three shots in 20 minutes. Taking advantage of a Columbus turnover inside their own zone, Martin Erat intercepted a pass from Antoine Vermette, kicked the puck to Mike Fisher, and Mr. Carrie Underwood brought the fans out of their seats with top corner wrist shot.
The Jackets managed to reach the first intermission, and interim head coach Todd Richards appeared to rally his troops. A much more engaged team challenged back in the second period, and their captain brought the game even when Rick Nash stole the puck from Shea Weber and drove to the net, beating Pekka Rinne even as he was hauled down by Weber from behind.
The Columbus captain was one of the few Blue Jackets who came to play, racking up a team high five shots, but his efforts were frustrated by a team wide inability to convert on the power play, and a penalty kill that would give up a go-ahead goal in the final 29 seconds of the period when Mike Fisher cleaned up the rebound of a Weber slap shot for his second of the night.
Despite the Jackets managing to close the shot gap to 24-19 after a furious second period, the third period belonged to the Predators just as much as the first. Managing their lead and preventing the Blue Jackets from effectively challenging Rinne around the net, they extended their lead to 3-1 on a strong individual effort by Matt Halischuk to snag a bouncing puck in the high slot and score on a spin-a-rama.
With Derek Dorsett in the penalty box for a trip on Ryan Ellis, the Predators finished nailing the coffin lid shut with a goal that initially appeared to be a clean point shot by Suter but was later determined to be tipped in front of the net by Patrick Hornqvist.
Both teams will play again Tuesday, with the Predators traveling to Chicago and the Blue Jackets heading south to Tampa Bay, before the clubs disperse for the All-Star Game break.