Columbus Avenges “Stolen” Game

ANAHEIM, CA – Derek Brassard described his booming slap-shot game-winner for the Blue Jackets – who beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime Friday night – as a goal that’s been in the works for a long time.

“It’s something that I do in practice, always trying to go short side,” Brassard told Inside Hockey. “On the two-on-one I had [Rick] Nash, which is a really good option there, but I trust my shot. I knew I could do it. You know what? I just find a way there.”

Pretty glorious, but it gets better. Even as Brassard was racing down the left wing, his quick decision-making meant he was never really going to pass to Nash.

“When you go two-on-one, you always have to figure information, like I know Nash is a lefty on the one-timer, and I knew Hiller was catching righty, and so I just tried to go, I trust my shot, and I just tried to go short side.”

I’ve described a few of my own goals that way, but most of them weren’t actually scored like that. Brassard’s was, and it was his second of the game. He had also tied the score at 1-1 in the second period when a rebound went to Nash, who touched it over to Brassard to fire a wrister over a sprawling Jonas Hiller. That’s more my kind of goal, in truth.

With Brassard’s OT marker, the score of the contest finished 3-2 – significant perhaps as it mirrors the score that the Jackets lost to the Kings two nights before in the infamous “clockgate” affair. The NHL has now admitted the game was prolonged by a scoreboard problem, that briefly stopped the clock with 1.8 seconds left. The trouble meant that with less than a half-second left, LA scored to win the game.

Columbus were ripped off, in other words, and LA got a point that it may or may not have, had the game properly proceeded to overtime. Both Brassard and interim coach Todd Richards mentioned it after their latest win.

“We had a tough break the last game, but we came out strong,” Brassard said.

When asked about the “hangover” from Wednesday, Richards said: “The way the game started, I thought we were hung over from that, but I thought the guys regrouped.

“I thought we got stronger in the first, and again, they’re a very good team. Weathered some storms when there was, and I like the way the guys battled.”

So the scoreboard malfuction was on their minds, but interestingly, when IH followed up with Brassard about the disputed goal, he backed off, a lot.

“Honestly, we didn’t talk about it at all,” Brassard said. “When the game was over, it was over.

“It’s not in our hands. They’re going to have meetings, or whatever, but the only thing we control is the way we play, and we thought in LA we played our game.

“We didn’t talk about it,” Brassard added. “Yesterday we had the day off, and we had no practice, no meetings, so we didn’t talk about it.”

Goalie Curtis Sanford also mentioned the incident, but said the team had already moved on.

“What happened the other night we put behind us, we came in here, and we got two points,” Sanford told IH. “We could have come in here with our tails between our legs. We could have been soured on what happened in LA, but this win is good character, shows a good character with our team.”

Sanford played a strong game, stopping all but two of the 35 shots taken by the Ducks. His counterpart Hiller faced 21 shots and gave up the aforementioned three goals, none bad.

IH spoke with Sanford and asked him about the game and the state of his career. He played eight games with the Blues in 2002-03, then a couple of pretty good seasons with them in 2005-07, and then two years backing up in Vancouver. But the past two years, he has been with Hamilton of the AHL, playing 41 and 40 games, respectively.

With Columbus this year, he has been in 27 games, winning nine of them, and coming into the night with a 2.59 GAA and .912 save percentage. Pretty nice numbers, especially on a team which has a horrible goal differential, with 120 goals scored  thus far and allowed 174.

“I hope I am having a bit of a moment,” Sanford said. “I had some good years in the NHL prior to this, and it’s funny, because I’ve been down in the American League the last couple of years, and it’s almost like a blessing in disguise for me. I got to work on a lot of things with my game, and fine-tune it, and make sure I was ready for my next opportunity in the NHL, not knowing when it was going to come.

“You have to just keep yourself in the mindset that the next opportunity is going to come, and make the most of it,” the 32-year-old added. “Right now, that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m enjoying this moment.

“Obviously, we’d like to win more games, but I’m enjoying working hard and being prepared to play every game.”

That’s not a bad way to think for a guy who went undrafted but has since played in over 130 NHL games to date and has toiled for nine different teams in four different pro leagues.

Friday night, the game was mostly controlled by the Ducks early on, with Teemu Selanne scoring less than two minutes in. The Jackets then came on in the period, but registered just six shots. Sanford indicated that some of the home team’s total were long ones, so the numbers on the night (35-21) might be a bit deceiving in terms of how dangerous he felt the Ducks to be.

One huge failing on the part of Anaheim came on the power play. The Jackets had five minor penalties in period two, and the Ducks scored on just one of them, to make it 2-1 after two periods. Columbus then scored a power play goal of its own to open period three, and it was tied at 2-2 until the overtime goal by Brassard, which came with about one minute left in OT.

With his two goals, Selanne edges closer to adding to his list of his personal achievements. The 41-year-old is now just one goal behind Brendan Shanahan for 12th overall all-time. The two points also put him just two behind Brett Hull for 21st all-time in scoring, and five behind Luc Robitaille who is in 20th.

But personal milestones are not important in a game which, like for everyone on the Ducks, could mean the difference between making the playoffs, and not.

The Ducks play at home again Monday and Wednesday, then go on the road for eight games. Columbus has an opposite schedule, playing five of their next six at home. It won’t matter for either team, as Columbus is hopelessly in last place, and the Ducks have to win about 90% of their remaining games to get to the mid-90 number in points – the range needed to be in with a shot at the post-season. To be exact, they have to get 49 more points to get to 95, from 31 games remaining.

Ducks Notes
The team’s lineup is stable right now, with Mark Bell a healthy scratch and Jason Blake having been back for three nights. Rookie forward Devante Smith-Pelly is also coming back soon, having started to skate after breaking his foot in the World Junior tournament, so someone’s got to go or be sent to the AHL.

SoCal readers: I’ll be reading from my new book, My Country Is Hockey, at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena on February 9th. Check the calendar at www.vromansbookstore.com for details, or email me here at IH.

I’m now tweeting, sometimes. Follow me @growinguphockey

 

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