In the month of February the Columbus Blue Jackets had an impressive 8-4 record that catapulted them to playoff contender and buyer at the trade deadline. As the rumors mounted, general manager Scott Howson was able to complete a deal to bring Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto to Columbus, but not much more.
After the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets have seen little success, going winless in seven straight games. Their playoff hopes are slowly dwindling away with only one full month left in the season.
Every game from now on for the Jackets is a must win, and their game against the Carolina Hurricanes last night was no exception.
At the end of regulation, it was the Blue Jackets who were able to come out on top with the victory. Steve Mason played much better than he did during Columbus' winless streak, especially in the first and second periods. He made some incredible saves, including ones against Jussi Jokinen and Adam LaRose that kept the momentum on Columbus' side.
Going into the third, it looked as if Mason was going to record his fourth shutout of the season. However, youngster Jeff Skinner put one past Mason to make it a 2-1 game.
Derek MacKenzie would tally his second goal of the night by way of an empty net to put the game out of reach for the Hurricanes. However, Carolina did not get that memo and put one more past Mason with under a minute to go to make the score 3-2.
The clock would not be kind to the Hurricanes, as time ran out before they could complete the comeback.
The real hero of the game for Columbus was the penalty kill. The Hurricanes had nine power play opportunities throughout the game, including three two-man advantages, and the Blue Jackets stopped them all.
The penalty kill also did something that the power play hasn't been able to do, which was score. During their second penalty kill of the night, Samuel Pahlsson put a rebound past Cam Ward to give Columbus the early 1-0 lead.
Throughout the seven-game losing streak, giving up penalties was what killed the Blue Jackets, but tonight, it is what saved them. The Jackets prevented the Canes from setting up in the offensive zone and were consistently able to clear the puck and kill off each penalty.
So now that the losing streak is finally over and the Jackets got a much needed two points, is it too little too late for their playoff chances?
I have always considered myself to be an optimist, and today it is no different. Last night, lady luck was on the Blue Jackets side throughout the night. Several Hurricane opportunities barely missed from bringing the game even and giving momentum to the Caniacs.
If Lady Luck decides to stay in the Buckeye state, Columbus may not be quite out of it yet, but they will need a lot more than just her help.
Throughout the year and many past seasons, it has been obvious when Rick Nash scores, the Jackets are successful. However, when he does not score, they usually find themselves struggling to get points on the board.
During their winless streak, Nash was unable to put any past opposing netminders. He was only able to record four points and by looking at the results of those seven games, it was not enough from the 26-year-old captain.
I know that hockey is a team sport and it should not all be about one player. But when a game is on the line, Nash has got to step up, that is why he has the "C" on his chest.
Of those seven straight losses, the Jackets lost five of them by a one-goal deficit. Throughout the season, Nash has come up big in late game situations. Hopefully Nash can not only break out of his goalless streak, but also help the Jackets out when they need him the most.
Powerless Power Play
Columbus' power play has struggled all year. Teams in the West have no reason to panic when they draw a penalty because chances are the score will still be the same two minutes from now.
It had seemed that they had finally gotten their power play going during their hot February, with a 24 percent success rate.
However, since then the Jackets have gone back to being timid and constantly passing back and forth, only taking one or two shots per power play. Last night against Carolina, the power play had five opportunities to extend the Jackets lead and could not do it.
The Jackets need to put more pucks on net when they have the advantage because every opportunity is crucial when every game from here on out is a must-win.
If you look at my past articles, you will notice that a bulk of them deal with Steve Mason. One will talk about how well Mason is doing and the next will talk about how he looked awful between the pipes.
Now, like Ed Cmar talked about in his latest article, Mason can not be handed all of the blame for the Jackets struggles. Columbus' defense deserve a good chunk of the blame as they have not played well this season.
Defensive help was the main thing Columbus looked for at the trade deadline. Howson was able to bring in leadership at the blue line with former captain Craig Rivet, but he was unsuccessful in bringing in that offensive weapon at the point.
So since the defense has not been upgraded as it needed, Mason is going to have to stand on his head through the rest of the season if the Blue Jackets are going to have any chance of making the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history.
Will Lady Luck continue to be on the Blue Jackets side throughout the month of March and get them into the playoffs? Only time will tell, but like all season, it should be interesting.