Given the Blue Jackets' predicament and their red-hot opponent Thursday night, Sanford gave Columbus arguably its best goaltending performance of the season by making 26 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to the streaking Bruins at TD Garden. The only goal he allowed in regulation went in off of his own teammate.
Boston won its seventh straight game while Columbus picked up only its eighth point of the season, but it was in a confidence-building fashion behind the unlikeliest of sources.
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Columbus coach Scott Arniel wouldn't commit to starting Sanford in Nashville on Saturday, choosing instead to say he'd like to let it sink in before making that call. Judging by what he witnessed Thursday, it would be almost unfathomable for Arniel to choose the struggling Steve Mason over Sanford, whose performance gave the rest of the Jackets the confidence to play one of their strongest defensive games of the season.
"I think he's earned the opportunity for us to talk about it, certainly," Arniel said.
Sanford's previous start in the NHL came on Jan. 10, 2009, when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.
"It was against the Sharks," he recalled. "It feels like it's been a really long time."
He spent the next two seasons in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Sanford was supposed to be the Jackets' No. 3 this season, but Mark Dekanich's high-ankle sprain gave him a chance to be on the opening night roster.
He made his first appearance in the NHL since Jan. 13, 2009 when he relieved Mason early in the third period of the Jackets second game this season. Sanford faced three shots and stopped them all, at least getting his NHL stripes back again.
Sanford was supposed to start against Dallas on Oct. 18, but he suffered a groin injury during a shootout drill late in practice the day before. It put him out for nearly a month.
"I felt it pop and knew right away it was going to be a while," Sanford said. "It was a long four weeks."
But here he was in Boston facing the defending Stanley Cup champions in his first start in what to him seemed like forever, and Sanford did not bend even in the least.
He saved his best for late in the tie game, a time when the Blue Jackets have become known for giving up a goal or even two.
Sanford went left-to-right across his crease to stop Tyler Seguin's wicked one-timer with 1:43 left in regulation. Fifty seconds into overtime he stuffed Chris Kelly twice with his blocker, and 15 seconds later he stoned Brad Marchand on a semi-breakaway.
The Jackets found their way to one point, a precious result for them these days, in part because Sanford gave them the confidence to just play.
Both Arniel and Nash agreed that Sanford's lack of NHL ice time both this season -- and in the last nearly three years -- helped Columbus because he didn't enter the game trending one way or another or, worse, worried about the last goal he gave up.
Steve Mason would not have been able to say the same thing.
"When a team is struggling you need guys to step up and he definitely stepped up," Nash said.
As soon as Sanford made some saves and started controlling the game from his crease, the Blue Jackets were able to play and stick with their system, even pushing the pace starting midway through the second period. They outshot Boston, 9-0, over the final seven and a half minutes of the period.
Columbus didn't allow Boston to have much of a middle drive all night, and there weren't any memorable odd-man rushes against either. The Blue Jackets held a 31-27 advantage in shots on goal, blocked 18 shots, outhit the Bruins by a 22-17 margin and won 56 percent of the faceoffs.
"I think what happens sometimes is you throw a young guy in there or a guy like Curtis, who hasn't played an NHL game in a number of years, the guys sometimes buckle down a little bit more," Arniel said. "You hate to say that but it does happen. They were trying hard to make sure we didn't give up too much quality, and Curtis made the stops that he needed to."
He made enough of them to earn another start. All Arniel has to do now is announce it.
"That's up to the coaches," Sanford said diplomatically. "I'll just take them as they come and look forward to the next one."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl