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Labatt Blue What We Learned: CBJ 5, NYR 3

Panarin nets a hat trick as Jackets win ninth straight

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

NEW YORK - During the marathon of an 82-game NHL regular season, a lot can happen in 16 days.

Players can become heroes or goats. Coaches can be hired, fired, spared or placed on the hot seat. Seasons can be made or busted, with hopes for qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs ignited or dashed.

All it takes is a good or bad stretch to go either direction, and there's been a whole lot of good for the Blue Jackets in the past 16 days, starting with a winning streak that extended to nine straight games Tuesday in a 5-3 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

It capped off a sweep of their final back-to-back of the season, which started with an impressive come-from-behind victory in overtime Monday in Boston.

"I have to be really careful with my frustration when things aren't going well for the key guys on our team, because they're not going to be perfect," said coach John Tortorella, who has poked and prodded those some of his key players all season, looking for a spark. "I just like the way we work through it. It's a really big road trip for us here."

Tortorella wasn't exactly thrilled with two Blue Jackets power plays in the second period, which led to a momentum-shifting shorthanded goal by Rangers center Kevin Hayes, but there was more good than bad in this game for Columbus.

"I know our team is trying," he said. "If our team isn't trying, that's when it's the wrong way. I'm very pleased with the road trip."

There's a lot to be pleased about with the Blue Jackets right now, in general.

It's good, for instance, to have a guy like Artemi Panarin, whose second career NHL hat trick and four points led the way to victory. It's good to have a No. 1 goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 29 saves on 32 shots and prevented a total collapse with some great stops.

It's good to have a line like the one centered by Alexander Wennberg, whose eighth goal of the season opened the scoring in the first period. The pass he received was another fantastic feed by Thomas Vanek and his shot sailed past a great screen provided by his left wing, Boone Jenner.

It's good to have three guys developing that kind of chemistry.

It's also good to have a defense corps so deep that even without Seth Jones, one of the brightest young stars in the game, the Blue Jackets (41-28-5) have still won their past three games (3-0-0). It's good to have veteran leaders, like Jenner and captain Nick Foligno, stepping to the forefront to lead the charge.

It's good to have veteran depth, after adding Vanek, Ian Cole, Mark Letestu and Taylor Chorney in February, the first three in deals prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. It's good to be in third place of the Metropolitan Division again, after falling outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference for a few weeks.

It's good to be the Blue Jackets right now, period, and there's still eight games left to continue their ascent.

Here's what we learned:

I: WHAT IT MEANS

The Blue Jackets moved past the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metro at 87 points with eight games left for each team. The Flyers have 86 points after losing 5-4 to the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout and dropping into the East's first wild card.

Columbus also tied the Pittsburgh Penguins in points, but Pittsburgh retained second place in the Metro. The Penguins, who lost 4-1 to the New York Islanders, have played on less game and own the next tiebreaker with four more regulation/overtime wins (39-35).

Further back in the East playoff race, the New Jersey Devils lost, 6-2, in San Jose and the Florida Panthers - the Jackets' next opponent - won 7-2 in Ottawa. The Devils (82 points) are clinging to the second wild card by a point over the Panthers (81 points), who've played two less games.

Florida still has three games-in hand on the Blue Jackets and trails Columbus by six points.

"They're one of the hottest teams for the past couple months here, with their record," Tortorella said of the Panthers. "We got through tonight's game, found a way to get two points. Now, we'll just worry about the next game, nothing else, and go from there."

II: STILL STREAKIN'

The overall winning streak tied the second-longest in franchise history, which was set Mar. 18 to April 4, 2015 and matched during last season's franchise-record 16-game winning streak.

The Blue Jackets have also won seven straight home games, four straight road games and have a chance to tie the franchise record for consecutive home victories on Thursday against the Panthers. That mark was set Nov. 29, 2016 to Jan. 3, 2017 during last season's record-setting streak.

"I don't even care about the streak," Foligno said. "I just want points. [The media] can talk about this versus last year's streak. We don't even care. Once we get to 17, maybe we'll care, but we went through that. It's a pretty cool feather in the cap, but right now, all we're about is getting into the playoffs. We want it to continue, don't get me wrong, but our focus now is just getting ready for another big game on Thursday."

Foligno said that focus, prompted by the Blue Jackets' precarious playoff situation prior to this year's streak, is the reason they're on this roll.

"Maybe it's a great lesson for the whole year," he said. "I don't know if you can play like that the whole year, but we want to. It's just the urgency that guys have, and the plays guys are making … just little plays, I'm talking about, the blocks, the little dinks that are getting us out of our end and getting us on offense. Those are huge at this time of year and we're getting it right now."

III: TORMENTING 'THE KING'

Panarin continued to rack up points against Lundqvist, with his 23rd , 24th and 25th goals of the season plus his primary assist on Markus Nutivaara's tally in the third.

All but one of Panarin's 10 goals against the Rangers were scored with Lundqvist in net, including five goals and one assist in his first season with Columbus. Panarin started the trend in his first two NHL seasons with the Blackhawks,  

Not many players have stats lines even remotely as successful against Lundqvist, who's earned the nickname "King Henrik" as one of the most decorated goalies in the NHL's modern era..

Video: CBJ@NYR: Panarin goes top shelf over Lundqvist

IV: 'BOB' STAYS SHARP

Bobrovsky got back between the pipes after getting a night off Monday in Boston.

The Blue Jackets' No. 1 goalie didn't miss a beat, despite allowing three goals. He was razor sharp when Columbus needed it most, including the final seven minutes of the second period and final two minutes of regulation, after Chris Kreider pulled the Rangers to within 4-3 with 1:52 left to play.

Hayes also beat him for a shorthanded goal with 6:16 left in the second period, making it 2-1 Columbus, but Bobrovsky and the goal posts kept New York from scoring again. In all, Bobrovsky went 9-for-9 on saves in the first period, 8-for-9 in the second and 12-for-14 in the third, sealing his 33rd win of the season and eighth in the past 10 games (8-2-0).

He's allowed two-or-fewer goals in seven of those 10 games.

Video: CBJ@NYR: Bobrovsky snares Hayes' chance down low 

V: ANOTHER GAME, ANOTHER GOAL

It's probably time to start thinking up catchy nicknames for the line of Jenner, Wennberg and Vanek.

They keep getting better and it shows each time they step onto the ice. It feels like they're good for at least one goal a game, because they've become just that dangerous in the offensive zone.

After producing two goals against Boston on Monday, scored by Jenner and Vanek, the trio did it again against the Rangers. This time, Wennberg scored the game's first goal, at 13:54 of the first period. Vanek found him from behind the net.

Jenner's career-high point streak ended at six games, but his screen for Wennberg's shot was key.

Video: CBJ@NYR: Wennberg tallies from the high slot

VI: TOUGH DECISIONS   

Brandon Dubinsky was a healthy scratch for the first time this season, first time in six seasons as a Blue Jacket and first time under Tortorella, who also coached him with the New York Rangers.

The veteran center did block a shot with his hand against the Boston Bruins on Monday, but Tortorella said this was a coach's decision and wasn't an injury issue. Dubinsky has five goals, 10 assists and 15 points in 55 games, but missed 18 games with a fractured orbital bone following a fight Dec. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers.

Lukas Sedlak drew back into the lineup and played on the fourth line for Dubinsky.

"It's been a struggle for him," Tortorella said. "I thought Sedlak was playing well in two or three of his last games, before I took him out, and yeah, this is my decision and I think gives us the best opportunity to win tonight's game."

Tortorella said he didn't have a conversation about it with Dubinsky beforehand, keeping with something he's said since the NHL Trade Deadline passed Feb. 26.

"I coach him during the game, but I'm not having any more 1-on-1 meetings and, 'I'll try to help you here,' … those days are gone, and the team knows that," Tortorella said. "Brandon Dubinsky is a really good player, and [it's known] how I feel about him. He's been given plenty of opportunities to try and find himself. I thought he really struggled [Monday] night and I've got other guys that are champing on the bit to get in here. … but that's healthy. That, to me, isn't treating a player poorly. It's about the merit of what we need to put on the ice, and tonight Dubi's out."

VII: WINNING WITHOUT JONES

They'd much rather have Jones in uniform, rather than watching from the press box, but the Blue Jackets are proving just how deep they are in defensemen.

They improved to 3-0-0 without Jones, who's missed the past three games with an upper-body injury. Ryan Murray and Nutivaara, in particular, have shined since the Blue Jackets' second-leading scorer left the lineup.

Murray was a healthy scratch in the game prior to Jones' departure, but has returned to action with solid two-way play and three assists, including two huge primary helpers in the Jackets' win against the Bruins.

"He doesn't put up big offensive numbers, but he sees the ice very well and he's a guy that's aggravated with me," Tortorella said. "He thinks he should've been playing before. He's [ticked] off. He's basically saying, 'I'm in. You're not getting me out of here.' That's healthy at this time of year."

Nutivaara has goals in two of the past three games.

"Everybody's got to step up," he said. "Jonesy's a huge part of our defense. Nobody can replace him, but we've just got to step up. [Bobrovsky's] been good, [Joonas Korpisalo's] been good and the forwards have been helping us. So, it's the whole team."

VIII: ANOTHER KIND OF HAT TRICK

Panarin scored three goals for his second career hat trick, but didn't get what Tortorella calls "the hat" after the game.

The Blue Jackets' replica Civil War-era Kepi hat, passed around by players after each win, was awarded by Murray to Cole, a fellow blue-liner - who had the primary assists on Panarin's first and third goals. Cole, who has a full beard, looked like a Civil War re-enactor while wearing it.

IX: NEXT UP

The Blue Jackets have a day off Wednesday, prior to hosting the Panthers on Thursday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go).

Floirida is still six points behind the Blue Jackets, one spot out of the East's second wild card behind New Jersey. The Panthers have two games-in-hand on the Devils and three on the Blue Jackets. Columbus has won the first two games against Florida by a combined 10-5 margin, but haven't seen the Panthers since defeating them, 3-2, on Jan. 7 at Nationwide Arena.

Florida was 17-18-6 after that game but is 20-9-1 in the past 30 games.

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