TAMPA, Fla. - Each win in the NHL counts the same in the standings, but they don't all count the same in importance.
The Blue Jackets are off to their best start in franchise history, with 19 points in their first 14 games, but they're also learning a frustrating lesson when facing some of the NHL's best teams.
The latest sting was delivered by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night at Amalie Arena, when Steven Stamkos scored the lone goal in a shootout to win the game, 5-4, after Columbus overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third period.
"We're happy with a point, without a doubt, especially in a tough building against a good team, being down two, but we have some things to work on too," said center Brandon Dubinsky, whose first goal of the season tied it, 4-4, at 11:45 of the third period. "We've had a tough time winning games against the top echelon teams in this league, and if we're going to think that we're one of 'em, we 've got to start beating these teams. It's a great point, but I think we've got more to give and we've got to be better."
On the one hand, this was an impressive point earned. The Blue Jackets (9-4-1) shrugged off two tough periods, which led to their 4-2 hole starting the third, but they overcame it to force OT and the shootout.
On the other hand, only two of their nine victories are against teams currently in playoff position, they had numerous unsuccessful opportunities to win it after Dubinsky's goal, and they're still lacking one of those feather-in-the-cap type of victories - despite being this close.
Backed by Sergei Bobrovsky's play in net during the third and overtime, the Jackets took over the game in the third. According to naturalstattrick.com, which tracks scoring chances and shot attempts in real time, Columbus had 61.1 percent of the scoring chances in the third (11-7) and 80 percent of the high-danger chances (8-2).
Two of them resulted in goals by Markus Hannikainen, who scored his second in as many games to make it 4-3, and Dubinsky, who scored off the rebound of a shot by Boone Jenner.
"He's one of the guys that needs to get going more consistently," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "That's a big goal. I thought when we moved the lines around, we ended up with a little bit more offense."
They did, but this was still another shot to bag a big win, and it skittered away.
"To me, as we always talk about, it's mind-set," Tortorella said before the game. "I think our team thinks it's a good team. I think they're very honest with themselves that they still have to continue to get better. If you come in and maybe you win a game like this, it gives you a layer, a mind-set. Respect your opponent. This is a really good team. If you beat 'em, that's good for you. That's good for that mind-set of 'We're coming.'"
They only played a fraction of the game with that attitude, and that is a big reason they only got one point - that and the continued struggles of the Blue Jackets' top veterans to produce.
Artemi Panarin, whose shooting percentage was 2.5 percent coming into the game, went another game without a goal, despite more good scoring chances. He had six shot attempts and four shots on goal, and couldn't get any past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (30 saves) -- who made some great saves to keep his Russian countryman off the scoresheet.
That included a great scoring chance in overtime, with the Jackets on a 4-on-3 power play. Vasilevskiy made a great save to deny Panarin, who has one goal and hasn't scored since the third period of a 3-1 win against the New York Rangers on Oct. 13 at Nationwide Arena.
"Sure, he's frustrated," Tortorella said. "He's a goal-scorer. He knows he's a goal scorer. He knows he needs to be a goal-scorer for us. It's not for the lack of opportunities. I mean, he has another chance tonight at a very important time in the game, even before the 4-on-3 at the end, to help us. He's a good pro. He's new with the team. He knows what he means to the team here. He wants to try to help us, and sure he was frustrated."
Panarin wasn't the only one. Getting the point was OK, but it didn't have the same effect as a comeback win against the NHL's top team.
"It's really good, but I still think we can do better," said Hannikainen, who beat Vasilevskiy with a wraparound at the right post. "We gave them too much respect, and that was the biggest thing for tonight. We can still play better and win it."
The Blue Jackets' other two goals were scored by their top defensemen.
Seth Jones made it 1-0 just 2:30 into the game, and then - after goals by Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead - Zach Werenski tied it 2-2 at 10:55 of the first on his fourth goal of the season.
In the second, the Lightning went ahead 4-2 on goals by Stamkos and Yanni Gourde, whose goal with 1:59 left appeared to be a huge momentum shift.
Instead, the Jackets had another comeback effort in them.
They began to play their game more in the third, getting pucks deep into the Tampa Bay zone and using a hard forecheck effort to create turnovers that turned into scoring chances.
They tied the game, forced overtime, and just couldn't find a way to get that second point against a big-game opponent.
"Getting scored on late in the second period, I wasn't sure what was going to happen there," Tortorella said. "I'm glad they went through that test, because that's a tough goal. It's 3-2, you want to at least get into that third period just down by one. Tough test after they score late. We find a way. I'm looking at it half full, but I still think a number of guys have to get going."
News & Notes
CALVERT LEAVES AFTER HIT: It's been a rough trip, physically, for Matt Calvert. The veteran forward was struck in the mouth by the puck Thursday in a game against the Florida Panthers, which pushed his two front teeth back, and he sustained an injury Saturday, after being checked hard by Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi.
The hit, delievered at 4:52 of the third period, was shoulder-to-shoulder in the neutral zone. It sent Calvert's helmet flying off and dropped him to the ice. He didn't return.
"Clean hit," Tortorella said. "Danny Girardi's not going after anybody's head. That's just a clean hit. It's unfortunate 'Calvy' gets banged up, and I'm not sure what it is."
LINE BLENDER: It was another day of talking about line combinations for Tortorella, who can't find a set that has any staying power. As he adjusts them, certain combinations will work and then fizzle, prompting more line changes.
After the Jackets fell behind 4-2, the mixing and matching began in earnest. He also went away from using the fourth line, at least as it was comprised to start the game. Sonny Milano, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Hannikainen had a tough shift early in the first period that led to a Lightning goal, so Tortorella refrained from using them all together as line again - splitting them up and picking spots to play them with other forwards.
"As I've told our team, it is a process for me to figure out what our lines are going to be," Tortorella said. "[Cam Atkinson's] out. He's been out. I'm not sure what happens with the lines when he comes back, but eventually, we're going to have to stabilize something. So, if we want to play as quick and we want to play as aggressive as we want to, we need to play four lines."
Now add Calvert to the list of those who might not be available Monday against the New York Rangers, depending on the severity of his injury.
"Not sure what's going to happen with Calvy, not sure what's going to happen with Cam," Tortorella said. "Not sure what I'm going to do with my lines, but we found a way to get a point."
TORTORELLA HONORED: The Lightning are celebrating their 25th season in the NHL, and commemorated their 2004 Stanley Cup championship team prior to the game. Among those who walked down the blue carpet on the ice was Tortorella, who coached that team.
Friday night, he got together with other members of that team for dinner and enjoyed hearing all the old stories.
"We're very fortunate to be able to do that," he said. "You don't do that when you go out in the second round. You don't do that when you went out in the third round. You do it when you win a championship. For me … to listen to the stories, I thought I had a clean-cut team that wasn't going out, and oh, my god was I wrong. They were runnin'. I sat there last night for probably three hours. My video coach was with them, and I looked at him. I said, 'You didn't tell me any of this [stuff]?"
COOPER IMPRESSED: Following the Lightning's morning skate, coach Jon Cooper was asked about Columbus as a team. His answer should make Blue Jackets fans happy, despite Tampa Bay winning for a second time.
"It's always good when you've seen a team before, but I said this last time we played them … I think this is one of the premier teams in the league," Cooper said. "And when I say premier, I'm saying top two. They're just deep through all four lines. They've got size, skill, speed, goaltending, structure, and I just like the way they play."
Odds and ends: This was the Blue Jackets' first loss beyond regulation this season. They'd won four straight games that needed overtime or a shootout to decide. … Panarin's goal-less stretch is now 10 straight games, which is a career high. He had three nine-game goal-less stretches in his first two NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, including one from Jan. 10-31 of last season. … Four of the Blue Jackets' losses are to the Lightning (twice), the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings, who have a combined record of 32-7-4 and rank first, second and third in the overall NHL standings.
(All times ET)
Blue Jackets: At the New York Rangers on Monday (7 p.m., TV: FS-O, Fox Sports Go, MSG; Radio: 97.1 FM, BlueJackets.com)
Lightning: At the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m., NBCSN, NHL.TV)