Josh Anderson’s first NHL goal will be memorable regardless, but he gets bonus points for its timeliness.
The Blue Jackets, at one point, were plodding along in a 3-0 game without much going their way. Their opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes, was playing its third game in four nights and looked content to salt what was left of the game away and head home with a regulation win.
Until a great play by Cam Atkinson (a shorthanded breakaway goal) turned the game around.
From there, the rally built and snowballed as the Blue Jackets started to feed off the crowd – a loud and involved group of 16,532 at Nationwide Arena – after the Atkinson goal got them going.
The second goal was a great combination between Brandon Saad and Alexander Wennberg, and Wennberg’s persistence helped bring Columbus within a goal early in the third period.
Saad tried a lead pass and it rolled off his stick, but Wennberg kept after it and found himself with an open net to the left of Cam Ward. Only 4:32 into the third period, the Blue Jackets were within 3-2 and very much alive.
Then it was the kids – Anderson and Kerby Rychel – making something happen with a little help from their new line mate, Brandon Dubinsky.
After Dubinsky kept the puck in the zone with some alert hand-eye coordination, the puck rattled around in the skates of a Carolina defenseman and Rychel was all over it. With some patience and awareness, he elected to pass rather than shoot, and good thing he did – because Anderson was all alone on the weak side.
Slam dunk, game-tying goal. No better way to score your first, right?
“It was pretty special,” Anderson said. “You grow up dreaming about this your whole life, and it couldn’t happen in a better position today, to tie the game up. For it to come with Kerby Rychel (on the ice), and playing with him in Lake Erie, it was pretty special. He’s got that hockey sense and he made a nifty pass back door to me.
“He always makes those plays when you don’t even know it’s coming to you. I was ready for it and happy to put it in.”
His teammate with the Blue Jackets’ affiliate (first Springfield and now Lake Erie) the last two seasons, Rychel said he has some chemistry with Anderson and had a feeling he’d be lurking on the other side.
“Dubi made a good play keeping it in the zone and I just kind of saw (Anderson) out of the corner of my eye, and tried to get it to him,” Rychel said. “I’m really happy to help out on his first goal.”
It was a galvanizing third period for the Blue Jackets and one that was energized by the young players in the lineup – and that’s something John Tortorella believes is essential to the Blue Jackets’ future and their growth as a team.
They need the kids driving the bus and gaining confidence from it, and on Saturday night, there were glimpses of it. Anderson’s goal was just a reward for a solid game.
“I thought the kids played well through the whole game. I saw a lot of good things from the kids,” Tortorella said. “We need the kids in the lineup. I think that’s very important. It’s given me – at least selfishly – a great opportunity to see them. It’s a young man’s league, and quite honestly, I hope the kids take other people’s jobs. That’s how you become better as a team.”