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FINAL: Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 1

Werenski nets first career hat trick, Merzlikins first win as point streak hits 11

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets saw their point streak move to 11 with a 4-1 victory vs. Florida at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night. 

Game in a Paragraph 

It was a memorable night in Nationwide Arena, and not just because of New Year's Eve. The game marked the return to Columbus of Sergei Bobrovsky and the first start in the home net for Elvis Merzlikins, and it was notable for the first career win for the latter thanks to 36 saves. He was helped by Zach Werenski, who netted a hat trick to push the Jackets to the win. 

Video: FLA@CBJ: Werenski earns first career NHL hat trick

Quote of the Game

Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno on the atmosphere provided by the season-high 18,977: "It was a really electrifying night. I thought the fans were great tonight. To hear them all night long, they were loud, excited. I know it's New Year's Eve, but it's a fun environment for this game."

PHOTO GALLERY: Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 1

CBJ Notables 

  • Werenski earned his first career hat trick to give him 11 goals on the season and five in seven games since returning from injury. He has an 8-9-17 line in his last 17 games.  
  • Boone Jenner scored his eighth goal of the year and added an assist. He now has seven points (2-5-7) in his last eight games and nine points (4-5-9) in his last eight contests vs. Florida. 
  • Alexander Wennberg and Gus Nyquist each had a pair of assists.

Quick Recap 

There was no shortage of energy from the very beginning, with Columbus getting on the board 4:54 into the game. Wennberg won a faceoff back to Zach Werenski, who immediately stepped into a shot that beat Bobrovsky low to the glove side to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.  

Florida got a power play just over a minute later, with Merzlikins under quite a bit of pressure, but he made some excellent stops on Evgenii Dadonov from the slot and Jonathan Huberdeau from the left circle before gloving a shot by Brett Connolly shortly after the power play ended. 

The team traded chances the rest of the period, with Merzlikins making an excellent stop on Noel Acciari in transition, while Eric Robinson charging the net and Kevin Stenlund from the right dot both had good looks in Bobrovsky.  

Florida needed just 3:39 into the second to tie the game. A long shift in the Blue Jackets' zone ended when former CBJ defenseman Anton Stralman's shot from the right point was tipped past Merzlikins by Colton Sceviour to make it 1-1. 

Merzlikins was strong again in the second, though, as the Panthers pushed. He had a nice stop on Vincent Trocheck on a draw and also another good power-play denial of Dadonov from the same spot, keeping it a 1-1 game. 

Video: Werenski's hat trick powers Jackets past Panthers

Jenner then restored the Blue Jackets' lead with a power-play tally with 4:26 left in the second. It was a strong power play for the Jackets, and Wennberg threw a cross-ice pass to Nyquist, who then centered the puck. It deflected to Jenner in the slot, and his second effort shot got through the legs of Bobrovsky to make it 2-1.  

Florida finished the second afire and held a 53-32 edge in shot attempts through two periods, but Columbus grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck in the third. First, just 4:13 into the period, Werenski made it a 3-1 game as he fired from the left point, far post, past Bobrovsky. Florida challenged for goaltender interference but was denied and the goal stood. 

Then Werenski completed the hat trick at 8:04 of the period at the end of a long CBJ shift in the offensive zone. The puck came free to him as he drove in from the left point, and he hammered a shot past Bobrovsky's blocker to the near post to send the hats flying down to the Nationwide Arena ice.  

The Blue Jackets were able to limit the Panthers from there to finish off the win, moving the team to 7-0-4 in its last 11 games for the fourth longest point streak in team history. 

3 Takeaways

1. Wow. It's hard to decide who the bigger star was between Merzlikins and Werenski, but it was a night neither will ever forget. We've always known Werenski -- who moved up to fifth in the NHL for goals among defensemen this year -- could score, so the hat trick while historic was in his wheelhouse. But for Merzlikins to turn in the performance he did, on that stage, with that much pressure, with Bobrovsky on the other side ... it was almost a storybook way for him to earn his first CBJ win in his 10th appearance and get the elusive game puck for his mom. "Finally it came," he said of the win before adding, with laughter, "I had 10 shots to do it, so finally it came."

2. Merzlikins kept the Blue Jackets in the game through two periods, as a Florida team that has been piling up goals like crazy of late was all over Columbus at 5-on-5 and also had two buzzing power plays in the first 40 minutes. It looked like the Blue Jackets would have to hold on for dear life in the third, as for once it seemed like the never-ending injury parade had finally caught up with the team. Then Columbus turned in an excellent final period highlighted by Werenski's goals. "We talked about it from the Chicago game (Sunday)," Foligno said. "We said we have to learn from our mistakes. Chicago, we let that one slip away because we just sat back, so (we said) let's go back at them. I thought we did a great job of that."

3. Lost in all of the dramatics was that the winning goal for Columbus was turned in on the power play. The unit had struggled of late, but is that really a surprise with such names as Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand, just to name a few, on the injured list? But the Blue Jackets put together some good-looking man-up chances, finishing 1-for-3, and Jenner's goal from in front capped a power play in which Columbus had the puck nearly the entire time and made some nice passes to open up the ice. "As a power-play group, we want to be able to score those kinds of goals for our group," Jenner said. "We had one a little bit earlier where we had some decent pressure. We wanted to stick with it."

Notable 

Bobrovsky had 24 saves as Florida outshot the Jackets 37-28. ... Columbus has won eight of its last nine vs. Florida and is 12-0-1 in its last 13 vs. the Panthers in Nationwide Arena. … Werenski became the first-ever Blue Jackets defenseman to net a hat trick in Nationwide Arena and the third ever. The last was Bryan Berard on Jan. 8, 2006. ... Werenski also scored two goals on New Year's Eve a season ago. … CBJ forward Nathan Gerbe played in his 400th NHL game. … Merzlikins became the first Blue Jackets goalie to start a game in Nationwide Arena other than Bobrovsky or Joonas Korpisalo since Curtis McElhinney on Jan. 1, 2017. … The Blue Jackets are 8-3-1 all-time at home on New Year's Eve. ... Columbus is also 4-0-1 in its last five home games. The team has played in front of two straight sellout crowds and four overall on the year. 

Roster Report 

The Blue Jackets used the same 18-skater lineup as the past two games. Scratches were injured forward Sonny Milano, defenseman Scott Harrington and injured goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.  

In addition, rookie forward Alexandre Texier suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return.  

Up Next 

The Blue Jackets hit the road for a Thursday night matchup at Boston.  

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