Regardless of how the game transpired, at this point, the Blue Jackets will gladly take the two points.
They started well and scored twice in the opening period while controlling play for long stretches, but the second period was one they'd soon like to forget. On the second night of a back-to-back and less than 24 hours after losing 7-1 on home ice, the Carolina Hurricanes picked themselves up and took it to the Blue Jackets in the second period.
Columbus had every opportunity to collapse, coach John Tortorella said, but didn't. The third period was by no means a work of art, but their fourth line came through for the second time in the game to deliver the game-winning goal. A standing-room only sold-out crowd of 19,003 roared down the stretch as the Blue Jackets locked down their 31st win of the season, moving them into a tie (at least temporarily) with Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division and the NHL.
Markus Hannikainen scored his first NHL goal, Scott Hartnell scored twice and Dalton Prout chipped in two assists in a game that was nervy at times, but one in which the Blue Jackets got the result.
Sergei Bobrovsky needed to be sharp. He was. He was the game's second star with 35 saves and came up big in the third period while the Blue Jackets struggled to break through a smothering and structured Hurricanes team.
"You knew they (Carolina) were going to respond in the second, and they did, and I don't think we handled it well," Sam Gagner said. "To be able to fight through some of those things…it doesn't happen unless Bob makes those saves and allows us to find our game."
Here's what we learned:
BEND, DON'T BREAK: The second period was a struggle. Carolina was relentless on pucks, clogged up the neutral zone and looked to convert every Blue Jackets turnover into a counterattack. As a result, the Blue Jackets spent a lot of time chasing the puck and took an uncharacteristic number of penalties (six), which put plenty of pressure on their penalty killers and shortened the bench.
"They're a unit that's really aggressive and they go after pucks," Gagner said of the PK. "It gives us a lot of momentum."
Despite all of that, they knew they needed to be opportunistic in the third period and Hartnell's second goal, set up by beautifully by Gagner with 9:35 remaining, was enough to stand up in the end.
"Momentum swings in games are so important," Tortorella said. "This is where I think we're a little bit inexperienced: when we lose it, it's hard to get it back. Simplifying things will help you get it back. We have a little bit to learn, especially this time of year, because it's going to get tougher and tougher as we go along."
Video: CAR@CBJ: Gagner sets up Hartnell for go-ahead tally
BOB WAS BOB: This has not been an easy week for the Blue Jackets, with four games against two teams that are playing well and making concerted pushes up the standings in the Eastern Conference. Every point is valuable to both Carolina and Ottawa, and the Hurricanes desperately wanted two points tonight after a lopsided loss at home the night before. The Blue Jackets fired 42 shots on Thursday in a loss to Ottawa, they were dominant for long stretches on Tuesday against these same Hurricanes, but at the center of the week is the goaltending. Bobrovsky has started the last three games (2-1-0) after missing a week with an illness, and has certainly done his part to give Columbus a fighting chance as it enters the grind of the NHL schedule.
"We have no chance if Bob doesn't play the way he does," Tortorella said. "It's part of his job, too; when we need him like we needed him tonight, (with) a key save at a key time, that's his job and he's done it very well for us."
Video: CAR@CBJ: Bobrovsky sprawls out to rob shorthanded try
GIVE 'EM THE ROOM: Tortorella did some self-assessing after the game and was not pleased with how he handled himself in the second period. He felt he set the team back as he watched them fight the puck and try to get out of their own way, so between periods, he let captain Nick Foligno and his group take control. After all, that's something Tortorella has repeatedly mentioned - the Blue Jackets will eventually have to manage themselves and be accountable to each other, and not just to the head coach.
"I should have been helping them (in the second period), but instead, I think I hurt them," Tortorella said. "That's why I gave the team to Nick and the leadership group. I got caught up in 'where's that team that won 16 games?' It's a different animal when you get this time of the season when the league is getting better, and all the things aren't going to go right for you that did in those couple months there. I have enough experience that I should know that."