The playoff-like intensity and palpable buzz inside Nationwide Arena comes with the territory of playing important games in the middle of April, and as several Blue Jackets mentioned post-game, it makes it all the more easier to get up for such a hockey game.
From the drop of the puck, this felt like a different kind of game and one that - if successful - can propel a team to where it wants to go. And while there's plenty of work to be done and a steep hill to climb for the Blue Jackets to keep playing beyond the NHL regular season, they took a big step tonight and there's no denying that.
One week ago, they were in a similar situation: coming off a huge win in Nashville, the Blue Jackets faced a crucial game against the Blues at Scottrade Center and played in front of a loud, involved crowd that gave the Blues a lot of energy. Tonight, the backdrop was a rocking crowd in Columbus that was behind the home team from the get-go and roared its approval in the final minute with the end result well in hand.
Though they won't outwardly admit it, this game seemed to have a little added meaning given how disappointed the Blue Jackets were with the result in St. Louis last Friday night (aside from that whole playoff race, of course). This was their preferred style: high pace, finishing checks, supporting the puck and out-working the opposition to create offense.
Eleven different Blue Jackets recorded at least a point and Cam Atkinson picked up a multi-point game (goal, assist) against a team he loves to play. His first period goal was a big one, and brought the Jackets level after playing the first few minutes on their heels with some guys "tip-toeing" into the game as Richards said.
Back-to-back goals in a span of 4:16 in the second period really deflated the Blues, who maxxed out their energy early in the game and held on as long as they could. The Blue Jackets gave them a bit of their own medicine, too, attacking in waves and rolling four lines with fresh legs.
As I type this, the team is in the air and headed to Minnesota for another massive game tomorrow night at Xcel Energy Center.
Let's break it down.
1) A TEAM WIN: As I just mentioned, nearly a dozen players chipped in offensively and in particular, the Blue Jackets' young players stepped to the fore tonight. Atkinson, Calvert, Johansen, Prout on the back end...everyone played a role in this game and they did well in supporting Bobrovsky, who made 31 stops for his 15th win of the year. When things turned sour in the third period, there was no backing down and taking a few roughing or misconduct penalties is something they could live with.
2) SUPPORT AND START WITH THE PUCK: Now the sixth-best face-off team in the NHL, the Blue Jackets won 52 percent of the draws in tonight's game and it allowed them to manage the puck as best they could. In addition to their solid work in the circle, the Blue Jackets' puck support was one of their biggest strengths tonight, making zone exits easier and helping to spend more time in the offensive zone. The Blues, usually a team that likes to have the puck a lot, didn't see a lot of time with it tonight.
3) ON TO THE NEXT ONE: As awesome as tonight's game and atmosphere was at Nationwide Arena, it's now in the rear-view mirror for the Blue Jackets. Depending on the results of other games in the league, their win over St. Louis may have been enough to just keep pace and not gain ground. It's important to treat each game with high importance and right now, the focus is squarely on Saturday night's game in Minnesota.