The Blue Jackets improved to 13-2-4 in their last 19 games and moved into the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 win vs. Carolina on Thursday night in Nationwide Arena on Military Appreciation Night.
Game in a Paragraph
In a tight-checking game, Columbus simply wasn't sharp and didn't create much offense for most of the night, yet the Blue Jackets held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Carolina tied it each time. Finally, captain Nick Foligno scored for the first time since Nov. 29 with 1:41 to go to give the Blue Jackets the win despite being outshot 34-18. The victory was the 200th for John Tortorella as head coach of the Blue Jackets.
Video: Foligno leads Blue Jackets to third straight victory
Quote of the Game
Tortorella: "It was just one of those games. We're probably playing the fastest team in the league, and we just as a group had one of those lethargic games. You can't explain it. But it's a find a way league. I thought we played a better third period. Elvis gives us a chance, and I'm certainly not going to apologize for the win. We've had a few go the other way where we've played really well and lost, so we'll just go and be ready for our next game."
- Emil Bemstrom scored his fifth goal of the season and has two goals and an assist in his last three games.
- In his return after being out with an injury since Dec. 19, Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist. He has six goals in his last nine games dating back to before his injury.
- Elvis Merzlikins made 32 saves to win his seventh game in nine starts, though his two-game shutout streak came to a close. His scoreless streak was snapped at 166:29, the third longest in Blue Jackets history.
Quick Recap (PHOTO GALLERY)
Columbus didn't need much time to get on the board, nor did Atkinson to make an impact. His long, floated, backhand pass found Bemstrom entering the zone for a 2-on-1, and Bemstrom fired quickly past the blocker of Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek to make it 1-0 just 1:07 into the game.
Atkinson almost scored on his next shift, as he followed his own rebound and nearly tucked it into the net off Mrazek, but Canes Teuvo Teravainen and Joel Edmundson pulled the puck off the line and tucked it under the Carolina goalie.
From there, Carolina upped the pressure but didn't have a ton of good looks at goal despite a 9-4 shot advantage at the end of the first.
The Hurricanes pushed the pressure even futher in the second and had a 24-11 edge in shots on goal by the end of the period, as well as a 1-1 tie. Seth Jones had his stick break on a one-timer attempt, and Carolina took advantage as Lucas Wallmark found the puck and sprung Martin Necas on a breakaway. Necas' shot beat Merzlikins to the glove at the 8:38 mark to knot the score.
Carolina pushed for another, forcing two excellent pad saves by Merzlikins on chances by Sebastian Aho and Warren Foegele on rebound tries, as the period went on but it was a 1-all game going to the third.
It didn't take long for it to become a 2-2 game. Columbus retook the lead 4:51 into the period, as Alexander Wennberg made a nice backhanded feed into the zone to give Atkinson a chance in front, and he chipped the puck between the arm and body of Mrazek to make it 2-1. But just 2:14 later, Teravainen's long blooping shot from the left point was tipped past Merzlikins by Jordan Staal in front, knotting the score.
It appeared Columbus had taken a 3-2 lead with 7:43 to go when Zach Werenski scored, but Carolina challenged for offside and it was upheld upon review that Foligno had just crossed the line ahead of the puck, keeping it a tie game. The Hurricanes' defense bailed out Mrazek again a few moments later, as a shot by Werenski got behind the goalie and sat on the goal line before Jake Gardiner skated it out of harm's way.
Gus Nyquist also had a chance with four minutes to go for Columbus as Vladislav Gavrikov sprung Nyquist and Bemstrom on a 2-on-1, but his shot went wide, just moments after Merzlikins had to make a pair of saves on Carolina chances.
Finally, the Blue Jackets got the winner with 101 seconds to play. A strong forecheck resulted in Eric Robinson forcing a turnover, as Foligno skated upon the puck in the slot and made no mistake by burying a quick shot past Mrazek for the victory.
Video: Military Night National Anthem
1. Foligno hadn't talked too much about it, but you could tell his scoreless streak that stretched more than a month and a half was a source of frustration for the captain. He had chipped in in other ways -- fighting more, strong defensive play -- but hockey players want to score goals, and he was more than happy to get off the schneid at the best possible time with the late game winner. Of course, he shared credit afterward with Robinson, whose strong forecheck caused the Carolina turnover that led to the goal. "It's Robby, actually," Foligno said. "He's by himself wreaking havoc down in the corner. I have to give him more credit than anything. As a last-ditch effort, I saw Staal try to poke it to the center and I was able to jump on it and make goo don it. It felt really good to get that one for the guys." Atkinson thinks more is coming for Foligno, who now has five goals this season. "It couldn't have happened to a better guy," Atkinson said. "Now he's going to take off."
2. We do three takeaways, and we'll use the middle one to talk about the CBJ struggles in the middle period. We'll let Tortorella take it from here. "First period, the (scoring) chances were 3-3," he said. "Third period, the chances were 3-3. The second period was a gong show as far as chances. I think it was 11-2 or something like that." According to Natural Stat Trick, the Hurricanes had 33 shot attempts to Columbus' 11 in that frame, yet only four of them were high-danger chances. While it was one-way traffic, Columbus blocked a ton of shots -- 11 in the period, 26 for the game -- and kept Carolina from running away on the scoreboard. "We bent but we didn't break," Foligno said.
3. Another night, another standout performance from Merzlikins, who might be getting better as he goes. He actually gave up goals tonight, something that hadn't happened in the previous two games, but he had to be sharp thanks to a Carolina team that throws the puck at the net and excels at tips in front too. In the end, Carolina had 73 shot attempts but just two went in. "That's my job as a goalie," he said of keeping the team in the game when Columbus was struggling to get out of its own end. "That's what I have to do, but I think we played really good. We just had to find a way, and I think Nick found it, so I'm happy for that. It's good points for us. It was a good game. It was really hard. They are a really good hockey team. They are dangerous as well. It was really hard to play against them, but a good ending so I am happy for that."
Columbus has points in 17 of the last 19 games and has 30 points since Dec. 9, most in the NHL in that span. ... Gavrikov tallied an assist for the third time in five games. … Wennberg notched an assist to give him a 2-5-7 line in the last nine games and a three-game point streak. ... Columbus is 9-1-4 when tied after two periods. ... The Blue Jackets have outscored foes 25-11 in their last eight home games while going 6-1-1. … Columbus is 3-0 vs. Carolina this year and 5-0-2 in its last seven division games. ... The Blue Jackets boosted their record to 6-2-1 in Thursday contests this season and 25-6-2 on the weekday since March 8, 2018.
Columbus returned Atkinson to the lineup after a 12-game injury layoff. He took the place of Sonny Milano, who was scratched along with defenseman Adam Clendening and injured goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
The Blue Jackets host Metropolitan Division rival New Jersey on Saturday night at Nationwide.