BLUE JACKETS (32-21-14) at FLAMES (34-26-7)
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
As the Blue Jackets stumbled to just one win in an 11-game span of late, the team was saying all the right things about having confidence and belief that the wins would soon come.
The reality, though, is Columbus looked like a team that needed something good to happen. And Sunday didn't look like that day, as Vancouver built a 2-0 lead in the opening minutes and was up 3-1 with eight minutes to play.
Of course, Blue Jackets fans know what happened next. Zach Werenski and Ryan Murray set up Riley Nash for a goal and suddenly there was energy in Nationwide Arena, both among the CBJ faithful and the players themselves. Then came a pair of power-play goals, one by Werenski and one by Emil Bemstrom, that gave the Blue Jackets the lead.
By the time Gus Nyquist fired into an empty net to complete the 5-3 win -- just the fourth two-goal comeback in the final eight minutes of a regulation win in franchise history -- the Blue Jackets were staring in the face of what felt like it could be a season-altering moment.
"It's huge," Murray said after the game. "Every game is going to be huge, and it's big to just stay focused and keep going. Obviously we want to get some momentum and keep rolling. We got some tonight and we want to keep that going forward."
Confidence is a funny thing, as it can come and go in a moment's notice, but the hope is that the comeback win infuses some of it back into the team's on-the-ice play.
There's also the hope it increases the energy level among the squad, one that head coach John Tortorella admitted has been flagging lately. He's made no bones about the fact his team has to have energy and compete in order to win games, especially with so many players out with injury, but a series of early deficits and overtime losses had seemingly showed a team that was starting to see its levels waning.
Even in the wake of that comeback win, Tortorella remains concerned about the team's energy level.
"(The win) just teaches us again that you find a way. You just never know what is going to happen in this league," Tortorella said. "You hope - I'm concerned about the energy of the club. I'm concerned about (how) I've laid a lot of minutes on people. That's a concern of mine. I'm trying to divvy that up better.
"We need to play with more energy. I'm not going to take anything away from our win, but we didn't have the puck much prior to that (comeback). We need to try to find our way that way."
The Blue Jackets canceled Monday's practice after the win and will not hold a morning skate ahead of Wednesday's game in Calgary to start the annual Western Canada trip, which this year features three teams in playoff positioning.
Tuesday's practice was short but upbeat, with many players staying on the ice after to work on things on their own, and there was also video shown Tuesday and another session scheduled for Wednesday to try to shore up the defensive issues that have seen the team give up 40 goals in the last 10 games.
"We are trying to handle it the right way and try not to fill their head with thoughts where I think it paralyzes them a little bit," Tortorella said. "We're trying to concentrate on two big things -- that's being above the puck when we don't have it in the offensive zone and supporting below the puck when we're trying to come out of our end zone."
Know the Foe
After a slow start for Calgary that included a 12-12-4 record under Bill Peters, the head coach was let go after admitting to using a racial slur while coaching in the minors. Geoff Ward has taken over and posted a 22-14-3 record as the Flames have moved into third place in the Pacific Division, though the team is 9-9-2 in its last 20 games.
Though the Flames are coming off a shutout of Florida, the defense has been the main reason for the recent uneven play. In that 20-game span, the Flames have given up 67 goals, an average of 3.35 per game.
Meanwhile, a team that potted 3.52 goals per game last year to place third in the NHL is now 20th in the league in scoring this year with 2.91 tallies per game, though the Flames are back to 3.50 goals per game in the last 20. Calgary has scored at least three goals in 12 straight games, averaging 4.33 tallies in that span. In the last 12, Mikael Backlund has a 9-9-18 line, while Johnny Gaudreau has 3-11-14, Mattkew Tkachuk has 13 points, Andrew Mangiapane has seven tallies and both Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan have six.
Overall, Tkachuk and Gaudreau are tied atop the team's point chart with 56 apiece, with Tkachuk posting 21 goals and 35 assists and Johnny Hockey with 17 goals and 39 helpers. Lindholm leads the team with 28 goals among his 53 points, while Monahan has a 22-24-26 line and Backlund has 15 goals and 42 points overall. Last season's Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano has a 5-25-30 line and Mangiapane has 17 goals overall.
In net, David Rittich has 47 starts and the All-Star is 24-16-6 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. Cam Talbot is 10-10-1 but has a 2.70 GAA and .919 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Special teams: Over the last 12, Calgary's power play is clicking at 26.7 percent, while the penalty kill is at 88.5 percent. Avoiding penalties has been a key to the Blue Jackets' success for most of the year, while the power play has heated up, but it'll be a big test to take on the Flames.
Tighten up defensively: On paper, it's not an ideal matchup right now, with Calgary averaging 4.33 goals per game in its last 12 and Columbus giving up 4.00 over the last 10. The "above the puck" concentration has to return.
Keep scoring: After struggling putting pucks in the net coming out of the All-Star break, the Blue Jackets have at least three goals in five of the past six. The finishing has been opportunistic, especially when Columbus gets the puck to the net.
Columbus has points in 31 of 38 games (21-7-10). … The team's 14 overtime losses lead the NHL. … Werenski leads all NHL defensemen with a CBJ-record 20 goals from the blue line this season. He is the first-ever Blue Jacket to reach 20 goals in a season and just the second blueliner in the league to hit the milestone the past three seasons (Toronto's Morgan Rielly, 20 last year). … Werenski is also three games from 300 in his career. ... Emil Bemstrom has scored in four of five games while Nick Foligno has tallies in four of six. … Alexander Wennberg is one point from 200 in his career. … The Blue Jackets are in the midst of a stretch of six straight games vs. Western Conference foes. … Columbus had won eight in a row in Calgary before falling by a 4-2 score a season ago. … The Blue Jackets are a combined 11-3-1 on the last five Western Canada trips. … With 393 man-games lost to injury this year, Columbus will pass 400 on this night.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Alexander Wennberg - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Emil Bemstrom
Kevin Stenlund - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Jakob Lilja - Devin Shore - Stefan Matteau
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Ryan Murray - Zach Werenski
Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke
Scratches: Oliver Bjorkstrand (injury), Nathan Gerbe (injury), Ryan MacInnis, Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Matiss Kivlenieks
Roster Report: Gerbe did make the trip but Merzlikins did and could dress for the first time since being injured Monday vs. Ottawa. MacInnis rotated in with the fourth line during drills Tuesday, while Nutivaara appeared to be the odd-man out on defense.