The Blue Jackets just keep on winning, topping the Devils at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday in overtime, 3-2. It was the Jackets’ seventh straight win and 11th in the last 13 games.
The Jackets did surrender a late goal to force overtime, but as they’ve done all season they were able to persevere in the extra session. This time it was Jack Johnson capping things off with his second goal in two games. Ryan Johansen also continued a scoring streak with two assists, giving him points in eight straight (3-8-11). Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 saves to earn his 10th win in 12 starts since returning from injury.
The Blue Jackets have had success with their 200-foot game over the course of their winning streak, managing to transition good defense into prime scoring chances. Sometimes a big save can have the same effect, and Tuesday, a big Bobrovsky save led to a Blue Jackets lead. With the score tied 1-1 in the second, the Devils entered the offensive zone with numbers and the puck was dished back to defenseman Mark Fraser who was trailing the play. Bobrovsky lunged to his right to make a difficult save on Fraser, the rebound spitting all the way out to Brandon Dubinsky high in the zone. Fraser caught an edge and fell down.
With Fraser down and out, Dubinsky had a free path from his own blue line to Cory Schneider and raced in. Devils forward Stefan Matteau gave Dubinsky a whack as he approached Schneider, drawing a penalty shot that Dubinsky would snap past Schneider’s glove for a 2-1 lead. It was the Jackets’ second penalty shot goal this year, with Boone Jenner netting one against the Penguins back on Dec. 13.
“I beat Schneider blocker side last time we played them and tried one earlier in the first," Dubinsky said. "I just thought he might think I was going there, so I was able to beat him on the glove side.”
It was Dubinsky’s first career penalty shot. He’s 0-for-1 in the shootout this season.
“BEND BUT DON'T BREAK"
The Blue Jackets’ power play did them some good on Tuesday, with Nick Foligno getting them on the board with a power play goal early in the second and then Dubinsky capitalizing on the penalty shot. Yet the special teams weren’t all positive, particularly at the end of regulation. The Blue Jackets limited New Jersey’s chances all night and had the veterans like Patrik Elias visibly frustrated, frustration that manifested itself in a tripping penalty for the Devils’ legend with just 3:18 to go.
That could have spelled the end for the Devils had the Blue Jackets treated the power play more as a scoring opportunity and less like a time-killing exercise. Just seconds into the power play, Johansen forced a pass through a closed lane to the point, a turnover that Jacob Josefson turned into a scoring chance. As the Blue Jackets carried the puck back out to center, they again turned it over carelessly and forgot all about Dainius Zubrus behind the play. Zubrus was sprung for the breakaway, initially stopped by Bobrovsky before Mike Cammalleri jammed in the rebound for his second of the night.
What could have been a crippling setback earlier in the season was instead a wake-up call for the Jackets, who closed out regulation with several good chances and then won the game on Johnson’s backhander just 56 seconds in overtime. The Blue Jackets are now 12-4 in overtime, their 12 wins tied for sixth in the league.
“We seem to be a good 4-on-4 team, and I think our greatest strength is that we defend really well 4-on-4 and it gives us opportunities at the other end,” said Matt Calvert, who played 11:57 in his first game back after missing 15 games with a concussion.
The Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL, but unfortunately that stretch came at a point in the season when they were already facing a steep uphill battle to return to the post-season. Despite the Jackets’ overtime win, the Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers officially eliminated the Jackets from playoff contention.
For a team that has overcome so much adversity with regards to injuries this season, and is now having so much success, it’s a bittersweet situation for the players and coaches.
“I don’t think you ever complain about winning streaks or winning hockey games, but I spoke yesterday about the disappointment of the season in general,” said coach Todd Richards. “One thing I’m going to have to do when this is all over with is go back and look to find areas where we have to get better. Right now we’re finding ways to win hockey games, and winning in some difficult buildings, so right now it’s about enjoying that. But there’s that disappointment for me this season in general just because of the expectations coming in that everybody had.”