These Blue Jackets must have felt cornered for as often as their backs have been against the wall, but as they've shown so many times this season, they're awfully rich in the intangibles department. In a must-win game last night in Dallas, they rode an emotional roller coaster through a game that felt like three different games: a fast-moving first period, a Stars-dominated second period and a third period best summed up by "come on, clock, tick faster."
When Mark Letestu cranked the game-winning goal past Kari Lehtonen seven minutes into the third period, you could almost feel the collective exhale from a Blue Jackets fanbase that was on the edge of its seat (and scoreboard watching) all night long. The Stars - who knew after the second period that their postseason hopes were over, according to coach Glen Gulutzan - didn't have the same zip to their game in the third period but obviously, the circumstances were understandable.
But that's not to take anything away from the Blue Jackets, who had to dig deep and get the job done the hard way once again. In the sixth game of a road trip that was likey the tipping point of their season, the Jackets took it one game at a time and fly home to Columbus with a 5-1-0 record on the trip - keeping them squarely in the hunt with only the weekend left to be played.
There was a lot for Todd Richards to like in his team's effort last night in Dallas, but above all else, their focus was so concerted and didn't leave the task at hand. All that mattered was getting two points from the Stars and then moving on to the next item on the agenda.
Two goals from Cam Atkinson, 31 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky, 14 face-off wins for Brandon Dubinsky, a team-leading 13th of the season from Mark Letestu...and one golden opportunity on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.
Until then, we'll examine this one and break it down.
1. SET THE TONE: The Blue Jackets knew the best way to get into this game early was to start on time and establish their presence all over the ice. Atkinson's first goal came just 19 seconds into the first period before most of the fans at American Airlines Center had found their seats, and the Jackets' first 10-12 minutes were fantastic. Though the Stars fought back to eventually tie the game, the importance of Atkinson's ice-breaker cannot be overlooked as it settled the Blue Jackets into their game right off the hop.
2. SURVIVE AND ADVANCE: Jamie Benn's power play goal in the second period re-energized the Stars, and they were the better team in the second period without question. They put 15 shots on Bobrovsky in the middle stanza and pressed hard for the go-ahead goal, but getting to the second intermission in a 1-1 tie was enormous for the Blue Jackets, who needed an opportunity to re-group. And for all the recent struggles on the power play, it was Blue Jackets' best friend tonight and came up big when it needed to. This time of year, that's what it's all about: no matter how you have get it done, just get it done. 3. GROWTH SPURTS: One of the most positive things come out of this playoff run is the big-game exposure the Blue Jackets' young players are receiving on a nightly basis. Atkinson, Ryan Johansen, Matt Calvert, Dalton Prout...all have had significant career moments over the last two months and have learned what it's like to play with the season hanging in the balance. Tonight, the kids were clutch: Johansen, Atkinson, Prout and Tim Erixon all played at least 14 minutes and Atkinson took the offensive headlines with a pair of huge goals to open and close the scoring.