In a battle of the two worst teams in the Western Conference (and arguably the two worst in the NHL), one never knows quite what to expect.
In a meeting of the Ducks and Blue Jackets at the Honda Center, Anaheim fans were treated to a battle that may be remembered as much for the bizarre injuries and dramatic finish as the offensive explosion from both clubs.
Despite Columbus netminder Curtis Sanford posting a shutout on Saturday versus Los Angeles, head coach Scott Arniel opted to go back to his rotation with goalie Steve Mason, citing concerns about overworking Sanford and risking aggravating a nagging back injury that has plagued the journeyman most of this season. For the Ducks, head coach Bruce Boudreau placed his faith in Jonas Hiller, who was backed up by rookie Iiro Tarkki in place of the injured Dan Ellis.
Anaheim opened the scoring on their third shot of the game when Andrew Cogliano collected a long rebound to beat a sprawling Steve Mason, then extended the lead when Corey Perry tucked a shot off Mason's shoulder on a textbook transition play.
Rick Nash put the Blue Jackets on the board late in the opening period, tucking a shot behind Hiller from the goal line, but Teemu Selanne restored a two goal lead on the power play after Marc Methot was called for interference.
Columbus head coach Scott Arniel might have been expected to change goaltenders after three goals in the first 18 minutes of play, but it would be Anaheim who swapped after Jonas Hiller appeared to suffer a lower body injury after making a save, putting Tarkki in net for the first time this season.
The Blue Jackets head coach found his hand forced, however, after Mason surrendered another goal in the final minute of the opening period, and Curtis Sanford led the Blue Jackets on to the ice for the remainder of the game.
Columbus attempted to tilt the ice back in their favor by turning up their physical play, leading to the first of two fights on the evening for Derek Dorsett, and Derick Brassard took advantage of a roughing call on Francois Beauchemin to cut the Ducks' lead to two when he slammed a hard shot from the faceoff dot past Tarkki.
Hopes of a Columbus rally appeared to die late in the second when penalties to Derek MacKenzie and Samuel Pahlsson gave the Ducks an extended two man advantage which both Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne capitalized on for their second goals of the night, apparently sealing the game less than 30 seconds into the third period.
The Jackets, however, were not quite ready to go away. Rick Nash responded in the third period to bring the Jackets back to within three goals in the third period on a strong individual effort, and Vinny Prospal scored on a deflection with just under six minutes to go in regulation to bring Columbus within striking distance. An elbowing major to Jean-Francois Jacques with 5:43 left in regulation gave the Blue Jackets a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but an injury to Jeff Carter left the Columbus power play unable to find any answers even with Curtis Sanford brought to the bench for an extra attacker.
Corey Perry fired into an empty net to complete his hat trick for the 7-4 victory, finally putting a cap on a game that seemed to be over in the first period. The Ducks survived, handing Tarkki a memorable first NHL victory, but perhaps giving Columbus a better chance at the first overall pick in the 2012 draft in the long run.