NEW YORK -- After his team blew a 3-1 third-period lead only to win 4-3 in a shootout, Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards had plenty of difficult questions to answer regarding his team's inconsistency.
His goaltender's play wasn't among them.
In his first game since leaving Columbus' 1-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 3 with a groin injury, Sergei Bobrovsky didn't look the least bit out of place. Last season's Vezina Trophy winner stopped 40 shots in his first game in over a month before stopping both opposing shooters in the shootout to lead the Blue Jackets to a crucial 4-3 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
"That's an easy one. He was great," Richards said when asked to assess the play of his goaltender. "He was tremendous. Obviously, he had a huge role in the game."
Columbus will need its No. 1 goalie to continue to play a huge role if it hopes to replicate the run it made down the stretch last season, when the Blue Jackets went 9-3-0 in April and missed out on a playoff spot due to a tiebreaker. The Minnesota Wild tied Columbus with 55 points, but earned the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference by virtue of having more wins.
Bobrovsky is ready to shoulder the load should he be called on to play major minutes down the stretch.
"I feel pretty good right now. I can play. It depends on the coaches. If they decide to play me, I will play," Bobrovsky said. "I felt pretty good right away."
While Bobrovsky made a number of big saves against the Rangers, including 31 in the first two periods, the Russian goaltender may have saved his best for last. Looking to keep his team alive in the second round of the shootout, former Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash went to his backhand and appeared to have Bobrovsky down and out as he lifted the puck toward the top of the net. But the Columbus goalie lifted up his glove to rob Nash.
"He's a great shootout goalie for us," Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said. "We've got good shooters so we're pretty confident in the shootout."
It's those kinds of plays that Columbus will need from its goaltender as it begins a stretch in which it will play nine of its next 12 games at home and seven of its next 12 against Metropolitan Division rivals.
But after leading his team to a big win, Bobrovsky wasn't paying any mind to the schedule. He was just happy to be back.
"It's always a perfect time to play hockey," he said with a laugh.
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