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Aftermath: YES! YES! YES!

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets
Make it eight straight wins for the Blue Jackets, who, despite their sealed regular-season fate, continue to be a menace to playoff hopefuls in both conferences.

The Blue Jackets came from behind yet again to overcome a two-goal third period deficit in the final 12 minutes, defeating the Islanders 4-3 in the shootout. With 12 wins in their last 14 games, the Jackets have been the masters of the comeback, now coming from behind in nine of their last ten wins.

Once again it was Ryan Johansen with the stare-down clincher in the shootout to put the Islanders away, but it was another strong effort by Johansen to even get them to that point. The Jackets also relied on yet another big night from a player they weren’t even sure they would have in the lineup in the morning.

Overseeing it all was head coach Todd Richards, who now has 200 wins as a head coach and 122 as the bench boss of the Jackets, just two behind Ken Hitchcock for the franchise record.

Jared Boll’s return to the Blue Jackets lineup and Richards' decision to scratch Marko Dano garnered much of the attention at Thursday’s morning skate, but there was another lineup uncertainty that was arguably more important. Jack Johnson had arrived at the rink feeling ill and was sent home, unsure whether or not he’d be able to lace up the skates by 7 p.m. Johnson said after the game that he’d felt good enough to play, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if he gets a day off from practice tomorrow. Johnson battled through and came up huge.

With the Jackets swarming the Islanders net trying to climb out of a two-goal hole, Johnson was down from his point and searching for the puck through a maze of bodies. The puck finally did trickle out of the scrum and onto his stick, and Johnson swatted the puck into an open net to change the momentum of the game.

“I think being down a goal, it’s just human nature in sports that the one team tries to protect the lead and the other team throws everything you have at them,” said Johnson, who now has goals in three straight games. “In that particular situation we were building momentum and we got them on their heels and we were taking chances and pinching. Luckily it paid off for us.”

That urgency was obvious in the third period, with the Blue Jackets creating much more traffic in front of Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The Jackets were controlled for much of the game, holding the Islanders to only 16 shots through two periods, limiting scoring chances, and showing good discipline. The Islanders managed to generate their offense in quick-strike fashion, but did not overpower. It wasn’t until the final 15 minutes that the Jackets upped the ante in the offensive zone and put sustained heat on the Islanders defense.

Johnson’s goal came off a net-mouth scramble that originated from a Casey Cizikas turnover and strong forechecking pressure to keep the play alive. Johansen scored the equalizer after Boone Jenner out-willed Lubomir Visnovsky, fed the puck out to David Savard, and then Johansen won the battle to the front of the net after the puck leaked behind Halak.

“We were talking about (getting to the net) a bit and knew we had to get to the net a little bit more and create more second and third opportunities. It was really evident that we were getting a lot more grade-A opportunities once we started doing that,” said Johansen, extending his points streak to nine games (4-8-12). “We found a way to get a couple of goals. You look at (Johnson’s) and mine, we had three guys right around the net.”

It’s been a while since Nationwide Arena felt like it did on Thursday night. That’s understandable considering how quickly the list of injuries derailed this season from the outset, not to mention the Jackets’ struggles to win on home ice for much of the year. But the Jackets’ stretch of feisty play since the beginning of March is what people in Columbus expected to see all year, and though the Jackets are no longer playoff hopefuls, the home fans seem to be appreciating both the effort they are seeing, as well as the closest their lineup has looked to its planned makeup from last summer.

The Johnson goal certainly changed the energy in the building, a “here we go again” mentality that earlier in the year was the sense of the game slipping away but now is the oncoming inevitability of another down-to-the-wire comeback effort. It was down to the wire, as Cody Goloubef was whistled for a delay of game penalty after the puck was sent over the glass. The puck appeared to touch the glass, but the Jackets still found themselves short-handed with two minutes to go.

The scrambling Jackets killed off the penalty as the fans rose to their feet, feeding into one of the season’s more exciting overtime sessions and the shootout.

“You could sense it in the building tonight with the ‘C-B-J’, and I’m telling you it energized our group,” said Richards. “And I’ve found in my interaction with people in the arena and the community, you get a lot of texts from people and friends talking about the previous month and how we’ve played and how the team’s playing now and winning hockey games. And that’s what it’s all about.”
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