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FINAL: Panthers 4, Blue Jackets 2

Bjorkstrand, Dalpe score, Merzlikins impresses in setback

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets dropped a 4-2 final to Florida on Monday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. 

Game in a Paragraph 

An entertaining, back-and-forth game nonetheless never saw Columbus hold the lead in its 13th loss in the last 15 games and sixth in a row. Florida led 2-0 and 3-1 just to see the Blue Jackets get back within one goal twice, but Columbus never could quite get the equalizer in the Central Division setback. Frank Vatrano scored twice for the Panthers, who outshot Columbus by a 39-36 margin.

Quote of the Game

Head coach John Tortorella: "Other than about eight or 10 minutes in the second period, I thought we played a pretty good hockey game. Started fast. Second period, a little bit of some moments, but still lost."

CBJ Standouts 
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand notched his team-best 15th goal of the year and his fifth of the campaign against the Panthers. 
  • Gavin Bayreuther made his CBJ debut, and the defenseman made his impact felt by dropping the gloves in his first game and notching a plus-1 rating in 13:17 of action.  
  • Cam Atkinson notched an assist, his second in as many games. He is now two points from 400 in his NHL career (212-186-398). 
  • Zac Dalpe earned his second goal of the season and put six shots on net.  

Video: CBJ Recap: Bjorkstrand, Dalpe score in 4-2 loss

Quick Recap 

Columbus had the jump in the first 10 minutes with 12 shots on goal in that time span, four of them on an early power play, but they could not solve Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers goalie used the blocker to deny Jack Roslovic when the CBJ center got behind the defense and also stopped Michael Del Zotto on the doorstep at the end of the power play to make his best stops in the early going. 

Florida then got on the board first at 11:40, making it 1-0 when Vatrano scored his 16th goal of the season. He was left alone in front of the net as the teams battled for the puck behind the net, and when the puck kicked off the skate of Seth Jones to Vatrano in the slot, he had time to pick his spot and buried the shot past Elvis Merzlikins' glove.  

Merzlikins kept it a 1-0 game through the first, though, denying Patric Hornqvist on the doorstep on a power play and scrambling all over the ice to keep the puck out of the net in the final minute, including a stop on the onrushing Markus Nutivaara without his stick.  

The second period was filled with plenty of action, including three goals and a scrap for new CBJ defenseman Bayreuther. First, Columbus got caught on a bad change in the first minute of the period and Florida made it a 2-0 game on a 3-on-2, as Anthony Duclair fed Jonathan Huberdeau on the rush, with a quick ensuing pass to Sam Bennett resulting a one-timer past Merzlikins at 0:59. 

Merzlikins made 17 saves in the middle frame including a denial of Aleksander Barkov on a breakaway. Shortly thereafter, Bayreuther leveled Duclair with a hit that resulted in a fight with Bennett that likely drew high marks from his new teammates. 

Bjorkstrand then scored at the 13:23 mark to make it a 2-1 game on a nice individual effort. He took a breakout pass from Atkinson, entered the zone, cut to the middle and -- while surrounded by all five Panthers on the ice -- let go a shot that got past the flat-footed Bobrovsky, rattled off the left post and went in. 

But just 41 seconds later, Florida made it a 3-1 game at 14:03. Duclair teed up Radko Gudas for a blast from the high slot that got past Merzlikins, who was off balance and quickly tried to claim goaltender interference. Columbus challenged, alleging Juho Lammikko had made contact with Merzlikins before the goal, but the tally stood. 

Merzlikins made a big stop on Nikita Gusev from point-blank range in the opening moments of the third, and that proved to be big when Columbus made it a 3-2 game with 11:59 left. Dalpe had been denied twice on his previous shift, but this time he found paydirt as Eric Robinson sent a puck to the netfront and Dalpe whacked at it until it found its way past Bobrovsky.  

From there, the teams traded chances down the stretch, including a penalty shot by Vatrano that was denied by Merzlikins' right pad with 7:30 to go. But Vatrano got the last laugh, scoring an empty-net goal with 1:22 to go for his second tally of the night to set the final score. 

3 Takeaways

1. A better showing: Missing much of its leadership core thanks to late-season trades and injuries, the Blue Jackets melted down when met with adversity in Dallas over the weekend, taking a 1-0 lead in each game before falling 4-1 and 5-1 in the two games. That wasn't the case on this night as the Jackets still made some mistakes against the talented Panthers but came much closer to a 60-minute showing. "I think we played more the right way tonight," said Bjorkstrand, who continues to leave it all on the ice while playing with stitches in his face and a black eye. With the roster so depleted right now and the team looking at evaluating players for next season, the biggest thing you can hope for is 60 minutes, and the Jackets delivered that.

2. Merzlikins delivers: It's hard to point at a goalie's showing and dole out too much praise in a 4-2 loss, but Merzlikins was impressive while making 35 saves on 38 shots against. He made impressive saves to keep Columbus in the game in all three periods, and he also showed some fire while going at Hornqvist in a scrum in the second period after the Panthers forward tried to jar loose a rebound. Afterward, Merzlikins was trademark Elvis. "I am thankful to him. He was provoking me, he gave me energy," Merzlikins said. "I wish he would keep doing that all night long. ... I love when the players do that. If they think they can get in my head, good luck." At a time when the Jackets are evaluating for next season, this was the kind of showing that will be a point in Merzlikins' corner. 

3. Not much solace: Columbus has won just two of its last 15 games and is winless in six. Obviously, the team isn't playing for a playoff berth, but you can tell the frustration of the losses is starting to add up. I'll have more on this in the preview tomorrow, but take the words of the goal scorers after the game. Here's what Bjorkstrand had to say after snapping a seven-game goal drought: "It's always nice (to score), but at the end of the day I'm minus-2 and that's not going to help the team win, so that irritates me." Dalpe, meanwhile, had little to say about his goal other than comparing it another sport. "Whack and go, I guess, kind of like my golf game," he said. A little self-depricating humor, but the Jackets aren't getting too excited for personal accolades in a losing effort. It's just not the time for it. 

Notable  

Bjorkstrand's goal also gave him a team-best 34 points on the season, seven against the Panthers in as many games. … Robinson's assist gave him 12 points (5-7-12) on the season, tying a career high. … Andrew Peeke also notched an assist on the Dalpe goal, giving the South Florida resident a point in his return home. … Jones had an assist and matched Dalpe with six shots on goal. ... Kole Sherwood led Columbus with eight hits. … With two successful penalty kills Columbus has stopped 37 of 41 power-play chances against (90.2 percent) in the last 16 games … Florida now has 30-plus shots on goal in all seven games vs. Columbus and is 6-0-1 in the season series (CBJ is 1-4-2). ... Vatrano's penalty shot was the first-ever in the series between the teams.

Roster Report 

Columbus made three changes to the lineup, entering Bayreuther for his CBJ debut as well as forwards Kevin Stenlund and Kole Sherwood. Out were forwards Max Domi and Mikhail Grigorenko as well as defenseman Scott Harrington, who were healthy scratches along with blueliners Dean Kukan and Gabriel Carlsson. With the scratch, Domi's consecutive games played streak of 314, the seventh-longest active run in the NHL, came to a close. 

Up Next 

Columbus and Florida meet again Tuesday night with a 7 p.m. start. 

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