The Blue Jackets need points in a big way coming out of the All-Star break, and they got off on the right foot with a 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals.
Very much like the last meeting between these two teams at Nationwide Arena, this was a game that neither team could get a firm grip on until the final buzzer. The Blue Jackets jumped out to two-goal leads three different times only to see Washingotn quickly answer in this back-and-forth affair. Unlike that previous meeting, an overtime win for the Caps, Columbus got the critical saves they needed tonight. And on this night, it was some of the less-publicized names that came up big.
THE BIG CURT
The Blue Jackets' fate this season now rests heavily in the hands of backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Todd Richards said this morning that it was no different than last season, when the Jackets received solid play from McElhinney during a Bobrovsky injury. The Jackets will certainly be happy with what they saw from McElhinney in the first game of this journey.
BLUE JACKETS 4 | CAPITALS 3
McElhinney made 25 saves on the evening, including several big stops on Washington’s three power plays. Another big stop came in the second on a short-handed two-on-one, where McElhinney made the initial stop on Joel Ward and then controlled the follow-up attempt by Eric Fehr. McElhinney wasn’t perfect, with a bad rebound coupled with poor back-checking leading to an Evgeny Kuznetsov goal late in the third and making it a one-goal game. Still, on the whole, McElhinney gave the Jackets everything they could have asked for.
“The big thing for us is that we’re responding to certain situations a lot better than we did earlier in the year, which is nice to see,” said McElhinney.
KEEP ATK IT
You could get the sense that Cam Atkinson was close. The Jackets’ winger hadn’t scored a goal in his previous 17 games and had only one tally in 25 games coming into tonight. But it was his shot that trickled through Boston’s Tuukka Rask and led to the Matt Calvert game winner at TD Garden, and he created plenty of opportunities against the Rangers. One got the feeling Atkinson just needed a bounce to go his way.
That bounce came off Nicklas Backstrom’s face.
Fedor Tyutin’s left point drive deflected off of Atkinson in the high slot and hit Backstrom in the face, bouncing right back to an uncovered Atkinson in the slot. Atkinson fired it past Holtby to snap the drought.
“I was kind of stunned when the puck came back to me, but I just wanted to get it off as quick as I could. It found the back of the net," Atkinson said.
Johansen came back from the All-Star Game much the way he went into it, scoring for the ninth time in 12 games. But it was the more unsung members of the Blue Jackets' roster that got this game off the ground. The fourth line of Mark Letestu, Jared Boll, and Corey Tropp provided a physical edge to the contest, the kind that Richards expects more of from them.
“I think there were times where we were trying to skill our way through the game, and they came out and worked their way through the game,” said Richards. “The fourth line, just by working, playing with speed and forechecking, and we’ve seen that in the past from our fourth line, just setting the tone for others. I think we got better as a group because of the fourth line.”
Letestu opened the scoring for the Jackets, driving hard to the net and snapping a nifty pass from Tropp past Holtby.