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Labatt Blue What We Learned: CBJ 3, DET 2

The Jackets moved into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with the victory

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider /

The puck was trapped along the wall, as time dripped off the clock Friday night on the giant video board inside Nationwide Arena.

On the ice below, the Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings jabbed at the frozen disc until it was sent along the boards to the other side. Detroit's Andreas Athanasiou won a race to it, shoveled a backhand feed though Boone Jenner's legs and put the puck on Darren Helm's stick with three seconds left.

Another overtime game felt like a near certainty for the Blue Jackets in that split second, after they'd coughed up a 4-2 lead late in the third against the Colorado Avalanche a day earlier. This time, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky wouldn't allow it, lunging forward, right at Helm, to just barely get his right elbow up in time to stop the puck.

Time ran out, the Blue Jackets breathed a sigh of relief and just like that they had a four-game winning streak clutched in their mitts - escaping Detroit's final, furious push to win 3-2 and gain possession of the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.

"This time of year," said veteran center Mark Letestu, one of the Jackets' additions at the NHL Trade Deadline last month, "as long as you're putting two points in the [win] column, it doesn't matter how you do it."

Those two points were big, just like the two Columbus added Thursday in a 5-4 overtime win against Colorado. The Blue Jackets coughed up the full two-goal lead in that one, but still got the second point on Seth Jones' goal 59 seconds into overtime.

A day later, they made Jones' second of two goals in the second period the game-winner. It wasn't the way you'd draw it up on a dry-erase board in the locker room, but that's rarely the case in the sport of hockey anyway.

It was a victory, the Blue Jackets' fourth in a row, and suddenly the arrow for this team is aimed skyward toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They can talk about the postseason a little more confidently around Columbus these days, because the Blue Jackets have put themselves right there in great position to qualify for it with 13 games remaining. The past two wins were a little nerve-wracking, but they were still wins.

"I think [Thomas Vanek] says it in here, 'We're the 'Scary Jackets,'' and from what he's seeing, we've been wanting to give up two-goal leads," said forward Matt Calvert, who opened the scoring with his first goal since Feb. 10 against the New Jersey Devils. "It's too close. Guys are going to finish those chances [eventually]. There's a lot of positives in our game right now, but we need to keep taking that next step if we want to be in the playoffs and be a good team in the playoffs."

He's right, of course, but the Blue Jackets have already taken some big steps compared to where they were and how they felt just a couple weeks ago.

They weren't occupying a playoff spot. They weren't scoring three-or-more goals a game. They were a team straggling along just trying to keep its collective head above the surface.

Now, it's a totally different story.

They're happy with all three of their defense pairings, including a top pairing of Zach Werenski and Jones that is now pouring on the offense. They're happy with the setup of the forward lines, which now have a good mix of quality veterans and young guys from top to bottom.

Werenski said after the win Thursday it was time for the Blue Jackets to stop looking over their shoulder. It was time for them to hunt, time for them to look ahead and chase down teams they've begun to close the gap against in this final sprint to the finish.

"As you keep on putting points up on the board, as we've done here of late, you've got to start looking that way," said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who'd prefer an even narrower focus. "I'm not a big believer in looking behind, looking ahead. I'm a believer in … I'm looking at Sunday's practice."

His team put two more points on the board, and as Letestu said, it didn't matter how they did it.

Here's what we learned:


The Blue Jackets took advantage of the fact no other teams from the Metropolitan Division played.

They moved up to 77 points, ahead of the Devils (76 points), and took over the East's first wild card. Columbus also moved within two points of the idle Philadelphia Flyers (79 points) for third place in the division.

The victory also pushed the Jackets four points ahead of the idle Florida Panthers (73 points), but Florida has played four less games.


If Jones and Werenski keep playing like this, the Blue Jackets are going to be a tough matchup for whoever they face in regular season or postseason.

Werenski came into the game with six points (three goals, three assists) in the past five games and broke the franchise record for goals by a defenseman in a single season on Tuesday, which was previously 12, reached only by Bryan Berard in 2005-06 and Jones last season.

Werenski has 14 goals, after scoring his 14th against Colorado, and his past two helped the Blue Jackets win important games. Not to be outdone, Jones closed the gap with his tallies against the Red Wings, the second two-goal game of his NHL career. He scored them a day after finishing with three points against the Avalanche on a goal and two assists, including that game-winning goal in OT.

"We're having fun, playing hockey," Jones said. "There's no, 'My record, your record.' It's nothing like that. It's all about the team at this point and what we can do to help win."

Combined, the Jackets' top defense pair has contributed 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in the past eight games, leading Columbus to a 6-2-0 record in those contests.

"It's not rocket science, the way we play," Jones said. "We've been trying to play this way all year. I think when the team was struggling a little bit, we took a step back, in my opinion, and we focused on the defensive side of the puck more as a team, as a whole. Now, our confidence is back. We're slowly gaining that back. I think it's important for our 'D' to be in the rush and make things happen. It's a five-man group of offense now."

Video: DET@CBJ: Panarin sets up Jones for one-timer


The Blue Jackets have struggled in the second periods of games for a large portion of the season, which has led to a number of frustrating losses.

The past two games, they've used the second period as a springboard to victory. Columbus scored three unanswered goals against Colorado on Thursday, taking a 4-2 lead into the third period, and added two more second-period goals against Detroit - both scored by Jones.

The Jackets have still been outscored 70-59 overall in the second period this season, but they're trying to close that gap down the stretch run of the regular season.

"After the first period, I thought we were outstanding," Tortorella said. "Obviously, [it] got a little nervous at the end, but I thought we were really good."

Video: DET@CBJ: Jones knocks in rebound for his second goal 


Calvert got the scoring started with his eighth goal of the season, scored while the Blue Jackets were shorthanded in the first period.

He'd gone 13 games without a goal, last scoring Feb. 10 in the Jackets' 6-1 rout of the Devils at Nationwide Arena. This was Calvert's second shorthanded goal this season and sixth of his career, which ranks him fourth all-time in franchise history in that category.

"It kind of got us started too," he said. "Sometimes [penalty-kills] can do that. You want to grab momentum. I didn't think we had our best period in the first, energy-wise, but you know, a few PKs [and] you get everyone into the game and feeling good about yourself after that."

Calvert had been tied at five career shorthanded goals with former Columbus forwards Derek MacKenzie, R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette. He's now one behind former Blue Jackets forward David Vyborny and two behind teammate Cam Atkinson.

Former Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash tops the list with a whopping 14 shorthanded goals in nine seasons playing for Columbus.

Video: DET@CBJ: Calvert fires home Wennberg's pass for SHG


Atkinson blocked a hard slap shot by Detroit's Mike Green with 2:21 left in the first period and the Blue Jackets killing off a penalty. Atkinson, who missed about a month with a broken bone in his right foot, was immediately hobbled and skated to the bench in pain.

After sitting on the bench for a couple shifts, he returned to the ice for the last shift of the period. Atkinson then came out for the second period and finished the game, notching a secondary assist on Jones' first goal.

Atkinson has finished with at least a point in six of the past eight games and has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 21 games since returning from the fractured foot.

"I feel great," Atkinson said. "There's still, definitely, things I need to improve on, but I feel like I'm pretty much back to my old self. Obviously, I wish I could be scoring more goals, but whatever I can do to help the team win, whether it's blocking shots or getting assists, doing those things and playing good defensively, I think that's very important right now."


Detroit went with Jared Coreau in net for just the second time this season, after No.1 goalie Jimmy Howard started the Red Wings' 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday at Little Caesar's Arena.

That was Howard's ninth straight appearance, which likely was the biggest factor in why he didn't play against the Blue Jackets. It might've been a tough call for Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, because Howard has outstanding career numbers against Columbus.

Howard has a record of 12-6-4 in 25 appearances against the Blue Jackets with a 1.88 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and three shutouts. That includes his 31-save performance in the Blue Jackets' 2-1 victory Nov. 11 in Detroit in a nine-round shootout.

Coreau, who made 33 saves, allowed four goals on 20 shots in a 6-5 loss Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, in his only other action this season.


Bobrovsky didn't get a ton of work in his return the net following an illness that sidelined him two games, but he was still sharp on the saves he did make.

The one against help was his biggest and best in the game, but the two-time Vezina Trophy winner held up solidly throughout the game. It had to be comforting for the Blue Jackets to see, after getting two wins out of backup Joonas Korpisalo while Bobrovsky sat out.


The Blue Jackets will host the Montreal Canadiens on Monday to wrap up their second season-high four-game homestand. It will be the finale of the season series and the first time they've played Montreal since Nov. 27 at Bell Centre, which the Canadiens won, 3-1.

Montreal is not in the playoff hunt, has lost its past two games and is 3-3-4 in its last 10 games.

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