Embrace the moment. Revel in the spotlight.
It's been a while since a regular season game featured this much hype, this much build-up, this much attention. The Blue Jackets entered the game on a 14-game winning streak, tied for fourth-longest in the history of the National Hockey League. Hosting this game was the Minnesota Wild, riding a 12-game streak of its own, and the home team was jacked up for the occasion - they were determined to give their best.
You know what? So were the Blue Jackets.
Their history-making streak will live on after a 4-2 New Year's Eve win at Xcel Energy Center, which saw one of its largest regular-season crowds ever for this game. It was a loud, playoff-like atmosphere right from the start, and the Blue Jackets looked the part of a team that relishes the big stage.
For the 24th time in 35 games, Columbus scored the opening goal. Cam Atkinson got behind the Wild defense and beat Devan Dubnyk, owner of the NHL's best goals against average, between the legs for a 1-0 lead.
There was altercation, energy, in the form of back-to-back fights involving Josh Anderson and Matt Calvert. Calvert and his dance partner, Matt Dumba, were ejected for starting a fight during a stoppage caused by another fight. It seemed to give the Blue Jackets yet another spark, and they blew the game open in the second period.
It was 4-1 through two periods after two quick goals and a late-period tally from Seth Jones. Minnesota pushed a little in the third, but Sergei Bobrovsky was strong in earning his 24th win of the season.
The Blue Jackets are 26-5-4 through 35 games.
"I'm happy for the guys," said coach John Tortorella. "I'm proud of the way they've handled themselves through all of this. It's two good teams. I liked the way we handled ourselves in our preparation, how we handled ourselves with media, and we played a good game."
Here's what we learned:
BOB, THE BACKBONE: Bobrovsky loves playing in St. Paul. Some of his best games over the years have come at Xcel Energy Center, and if Zach Parise didn't already see Bob in his nightmares, it may be a sure thing after tonight. Parise thought he had an open net in the first period to give the Wild a lead, but Bobrovsky dove across the crease and denied him. It seemed to give the Blue Jackets a sense of calm, knowing their guy was on his game tonight, and his 28 saves were a key part of the outcome.
"I don't think there was any panic in the third period," Tortorella said. "This is game 35 for us; to play in that atmosphere…there was no panic on the bench, and that's something we can hopefully go back to. A lot of good things come out of the whole situation, and we get a win."
"There was a lot of energy. It was a great atmosphere," Bobrovsky said.
Video: CBJ@MIN: Bobrovsky lays out to rob Parise's wrister
BIG SECOND PERIOD: Coming into the game, Minnesota had been the NHL's best second-period team with a +22 goal differential. Knowing how good the Blue Jackets have been in the third period, getting a lead was crucial for the Wild to have a chance. The Blue Jackets, instead, scored three times in the second; Jack Johnson joined the rush to make it 2-0, then Atkinson got his second, and after the Wild scored on the power play to cut the lead to 3-1, Jones took a great pass from Saad behind the net to beat Dubnyk top shelf for a 4-1 lead after 40. It was the type of authoritative, in-your-face period the Blue Jackets needed in a game like this when both teams hadn't been rattled by much lately.
"We used (the hype) to our advantage," Saad said. "Tonight was a good test for us. It's a fun building to play in - and we were definitely up for it."
Video: CBJ@MIN: Atkinson wrists one five-hole on breakaway
KEEP IT GOING: With each win of this streak, the Blue Jackets seem more and more galvanized. Their reaction after the final buzzer tonight was much different than previous games, and it was evident this win meant something to them. They'll head home now and get ready for a Tuesday night date with the Edmonton Oilers, who will look to snap a streak that's heading into uncharted territory. On this night, though, Tortorella wanted to make sure his team knew that he appreciated their effort, their preparation and concentration in a game that even he admitted had "a little more juice" to it.
"It's really special what we're doing here, and it's a great group of guys to do it with," Anderson said. "Tonight it was a lot of fun to play in that atmosphere, and we played a great game."
"We have a couple of big games ahead of us," said Saad. "We're looking to continue the streak."