After racking up three assists - including the 500th of his NHL career - 38-year-old Vinny Prospal summed up tonight's 4-3 win thusly: "It's not easy for teams to come into this rink right now. They know they're in for a battle. These are the kind of hockey games that as a team, an organization…we need to learn how to win.”
They did that tonight against a desperate, hungry Nashville Predators team that seemed prime for some good fortune. Wrapping up their road trip at Nationwide Arena tonight, you got the sense that Barry Trotz's group had another push left in it; when the Blue Jackets appeared to put the cherry on top with about seven minutes to play, it was in fact quite the opposite.
Some of the Blue Jackets players said they got comfortable with their 4-1 lead and coach Todd Richards said his team "relaxed" with a sizable cushion -- but it's hard to blame them. Before tonight's 4-3 regulation win (a rarity of late), the Blue Jackets had gone to overtime in nine of their previous 10 games. The offensive outburst was uncharacteristic of them in this recent stretch, and as Ryan Johansen put it, "we were just sick of going to overtime."
If not for a little sag in the final minutes of regulation, this may have been one of the Blue Jackets' strongest "close outs" of a game this season. They sensed a little hesitation on the Nashville end of the ice and exploited it - and perhaps the biggest positive was the power play coming through with the game hanging in the balance.
Let's break this one down, shall we?
1. START WITH THE PUCK: Face-offs are always key, but even more so when playing a team that's really seeking two points like the Predators were tonight. Armed with good centers like Mike Fisher and the injured Paul Gaustad, starting with the puck is a big key to controlling the game. The Blue Jackets were superb in that regard tonight, winning 61 percent of the draws (36-23) with Brandon Dubinsky leading the way at 16-2 (89 percent).
2. MANY WAYS TO CUT THE CAKE: I asked Richards about this after the game, how the Blue Jackets have shown the ability to win hockey games in several different fashions. They've come from behind, held on to leads (see tonight) and eeked out victories in overtime and shootouts in this 7-0-4 stretch they're currently riding. Richards said that while the bottom line is getting wins - which in turn is the biggest confidence boost - doing so with versatility gives them positive reinforcement when they're put into different situations.
3. VINNING: This guy was tremendous tonight, and the Mark Letestu goal was a product of Prospal's constant motion throughout that lengthy shift in the Nashville zone. You could hear him barking out directions to line mates Derick Brassard and Letestu for what seemed like minutes, before sliding a deft pass to the back post for Letestu bury for a 2-0 lead. Prospal's usually not one to talk about his milestones all that much, but he acknowledged he's fortunate to be able to still play the game he loves and be part of this Blue Jackets team.