One big letdown against the San Jose Sharks snapped the Columbus Blue Jackets’ three-game winning streak.
After scoring two power-play goals for an early 2-0 lead, Columbus surrendered three unanswered goals to the Sharks. A third-period tally from left winger Patrick Marleau put San Jose ahead, 3-2, and goalie Antti Niemi shut the Jackets out the rest of the game Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena.
The Blue Jackets imposed themselves on San Jose from the opening faceoff. Besides winning physical battles on both offense and defense, the Jackets took advantage of their first two power plays of the game.
Niemi kept his team in the game throughout the opening period, turning away 14 shots.
At 9:35 into the game, he got a leg pad to Blue Jackets left winger Kristian Huselius’ slap shot, despite a screen from left winger R.J. Umberger. Niemi’s pad wasn’t enough, though, and the shot trickled through his legs. Huselius’ 12th goal of the year gave the Blue Jackets an early 1-0 lead.
Columbus continued to win physical battles during its second power play before defenseman Grant Clitsome skated up from the blue line to slap a shot into the upper left-hand corner of the net. Niemi only managed to turn his head in time to see Clitsome’s third goal of the year put the Sharks in a 2-0 hole at the 19:51 mark.
But the Sharks pushed back, literally and figuratively, in the second period. There was increased physicality from all members of the San Jose team, and their scoring push came from unlikely players.
Less than two minutes into the second period, defenseman Kent Huskins cut the Sharks’ deficit in half with his first goal of the year. Sharks center Kyle Wellwood provided his second goal of the year to even the score at 2-2, 12 minutes later.
Columbus defenseman Marc Methot thought the goals were more a product of a Columbus letdown than a San Jose revival.
“We did it to ourselves that period,” Methot said. “We let off the gas.”
An uneventful third period turned unfortunate for Columbus when right winger Derek Dorsett collapsed after getting his leg caught on the ice. Dorsett stayed down for several minutes but managed to skate to the bench without assistance.
The Sharks intensified their attack when play resumed, and eventually one of their known scoring commodities provided the game-winning goal.
Columbus goalie Steve Mason, who saved 29 shots total, stood tall for much of the third period. Mason was tight up against the left post of his goal when a wrist shot from the point snuck passed him and several bodies in front of the net. The goal was credited to Marleau.
Columbus coach Scott Arniel was skeptical of the Sharks’ third goal.
“It just got in on the short side,” Arniel said. “(Mason) was playing a heck of a hockey game. If it goes on the short side, one way or another, he’s gotta seal that.”
Marleau’s 20th goal of the year for the Sharks was met with more impressive goaltending from Niemi, who made 16 of his game-high 42 saves in the third period to help the Sharks hang on for a 3-2 victory.
Arniel was mostly positive about Columbus’ effort in recent games, but questioned the mental toughness of his players.
“The guys, you could tell, were a little tired at times,” Arniel said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. It’s real disappointing. We felt we were good for stretches.”
Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash summed up the loss to San Jose in just a few sentences.
“It’s a tough one tonight,” Nash said. “We had a great first and then sat back and lost on a tough goal. We shot ourselves in the foot and threw away two points.”
With the loss, Columbus remains four points behind the Calgary Flames for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Jose moves into the top spot in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division and third place in the conference overall with the win.
The Blue Jackets return to action with a 7 p.m. faceoff Friday against the Colorado Avalanche at Nationwide Arena.