John Tortorella was looking for a response from his team tonight.
In more ways than one, he got that response.
The Blue Jackets played perhaps their best first period of the season and caught the Tampa Bay Lightning by surprise.
They rolled four lines and skated as well as they have in a while, chipping pucks in when they had to and then retrieving them, making it a long night of skating backward for the Lightning defense. When these Blue Jackets do that, they're a tough team to beat.
"I thought we took full control in the first period," Cam Atkinson said.
With a bounce-back win to snap a two-game skid, the Blue Jackets improved to 11-5-3 through 19 games and climbed a little closer to the Metropolitan Division playoff picture. After tonight, they're two points back of third-place Pittsburgh with two games in hand on the Penguins, who have played 21 games. Columbus occupies the No. 1 wild card spot in the East.
Video: Brandon Saad on his game-winning goal Friday in Tampa
Here's what we learned:
Not one, but two answers: Tampa tried like mad to get back in this game, and in the third period, clawed back to all square - but the Blue Jackets had a pair of responses that were timely for them and deflating for the Lightning. After Nikita Kucherov cut the Blue Jackets' 2-0 lead in half in the second period, Josh Anderson's line went to work on the next shift and restored a two-goal advantage. William Karlsson won a board battle, Scott Hartnell and Anderson crashed the net, and Anderson stuffed home a backhand shot 29 seconds later. In the third period, Ondrej Palat tied the game on a delayed penalty, but it was 3-3 for a matter of 57 seconds. Alexander Wennberg (who was terrific in this game) stole the puck from Jason Garrison in a 4-on-4 situation, made a quick pass to Brandon Saad in the slot and he ripped the eventual game-winning goal by Bishop.
"That team can score," Tortorella said of Tampa. "When they scored, I don't think we got back on our heels - we just kept on attacking.
"(Anderson) scored a big goal. When that team gets on a roll offensively, it's momentum you can't stop sometimes."
Video: Torts' reaction to the Jackets' win in Tampa
A little Wennberg magic: Tortorella said after the game that Wennberg is probably the Blue Jackets' most skilled center, and tonight, both his skills and intelligence were on full display. He followed his own shot to the net and buried the rebound to open the scoring in the first period, and in the third period, made the nifty play to strip Garrison and feed Saad for the go-ahead goal; it was one of his better games this season and his line with Saad and Nick Foligno did well to create turnovers and scoring chances. Wennberg's 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) have him in a tie for the team scoring lead with Foligno and Atkinson, and his 15 assists are tied for second-most in the entire NHL.
"We were quick tonight," Tortorella said. "I thought we played fast. We needed to answer the proper way."
Video: CBJ@TBL: Wennberg steals the puck, sets up Saad
Offense, defense, complete: It wasn't just the timely responses, nor was it solely the strong first period. The Blue Jackets needed a little bit of everything going their way to beat a high-octane Tampa Bay team tonight, but it started with getting back to their game. As Tortorella said, they played fast with and without the puck, forechecked hard and capitalized on opportunities. Columbus limited Tampa to but nine shots on goal deep into the second period and cut down on quality scoring chances against.
"I liked all parts of our game," Tortorella said. "I thought we played a complete game, so it's a good answer. We played a full game and we deserved to win."