For the most part, a goalie has one job in hockey.
When that one job isn't going so great, and the puck is getting past them too much, it's hard to feel like an important part of a team. The only thing that can fix it is a strong rebound game, one that rebuilds confidence save-by-save.
Joonas Korpisalo finally got one of those Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, when he made 37 saves to lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-1 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights, one of the NHL's most potent offensive teams. He needed that victory almost as bad as the Blue Jackets needed the two points that came with it.
"It's been a tough last four weeks for me," said Korpisalo, the Blue Jackets' backup who started because Sergei Bobrovsky was sick. "Every win, every solid game and every time I feel like I help the team helps me a lot."
He didn't have many of those recently to lean on, after allowing five goals three times and four goals once in his previous five starts, going 1-4-0 with a 3.97 goals-against average and .882 save percentage.
Korpisalo needed a game like this one, and so did his team.
"I think one of the most important things is that his team sees it," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "It's good for him, it's good for the coaches [and] more importantly it's good for the team. I've always said … the team likes playing in front of him. The past couple have been … there's been a few struggles here and there, but he was solid right from the get-go here tonight."
Korpisalo was sharp all game. He certainly didn't look like a struggling goalie while making a number of high-difficulty stops and frustrating one of the NHL's best teams.
"[He] comes in, as a surprise starter, when 'Bob's' sick and I thought just … he not only played good, he looked good doing it too," Tortorella said. "There wasn't a lot of extra motion in his game. He just looked like, 'I'm playing well tonight,' and that's the nice part of his mental makeup. I think he has that in him."
It showed right away, when he made 19 saves on 19 shots in the first period to preserve a slim 1-0 lead. Artemi Panarin scored 16 seconds into the game, the Jackets had another goal by Pierre-Luc Dubois disallowed and then Vegas pushed hard for an equalizer during the final eight-plus minutes.
Korpisalo made sure they didn't get it, until Erik Haula scored at 1:30 of the second. Instead of melting, his resolve stiffened. He didn't allow another puck to get past him and was mobbed by his teammates after the final horn.
Not bad for a guy who woke up thinking he'd watch the game from the Blue Jackets' bench.
"That was a nice surprise this morning," Korpisalo said. "Of course, it's sad that 'Bob' was out, but I'm happy to get into any games. Fun game to play, so I enjoyed it a lot."
The Blue Jackets (34-28-5) did too, after tightening their grip, ever-so-slightly, on the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
That was the most important among a number of good things in this game, along with defenseman Zach Werenski setting a franchise record for goals by a defenseman in one season, Ian Cole scoring his first goal as a Blue Jacket and the penalty kill going 2-for-2 in key situations.
None, however, overshadowed Korpisalo's night. He was superb when his team needed it most and the Jackets were glad to see it.
Here's what we learned:
I: WHAT IT MEANS
It was a big two points in the playoff race for the Blue Jackets, who moved to 73 points and maintained control of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The two teams closest in the chase for the East's final spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs lost on the road. The Florida Panthers lost in overtime, 5-4, after rallying to tie the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period, and the Carolina Hurricanes lost 6-1 against the Minnesota Wild.
Columbus picked up a point on the Panthers, who have 71 points, and the Jackets moved two more points ahead of the Hurricanes (69 points). Columbus also kept pace with the New Jersey Devils, who hold the East's first wild card and now have 76 points after defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 6-4, at Prudential Center.
"Huge two points … huge," Korpisalo said. "Huge points and I'm going to enjoy a little bit of this, then keep going, forget it and be even better in the next game."
II: LONG TIME COMING
Werenski's goal was one individual goal achieved that he'd been eyeing most of the season, moving him past defense partner Seth Jones (2016-17) and Bryan Berard (2005-06) on the list of most goals by a Blue Jackets defenseman in a single season.
It just took longer than he'd initially thought it would. Werenski scored his 10th goal on Dec. 14 in the Blue Jackets' 6-4 win against the New York Islanders at Nationwide Arena and then scored his 11th on Dec. 29 in Ottawa, after missing four games to rest an upper-body injury that has nagged him most of the season.
Werenski then went 25 more games without scoring a goal, before scoring his 12th this past Friday in Anaheim to tie Jones and Berard.
"The way I started, scoring a lot of goals off the bat, I kind of thought I would've gotten there a little quicker than I did - but it's part of the game," Werenski said Sunday, prior to the Blue Jackets' 4-2 win in San Jose. "A lot of good players go through it, where they go into slumps like that, but I'm happy to be out of it. Hopefully I can keep scoring some goals and helping this team here in this playoff race."
Video: VGK@CBJ: Werenski buries one-timer to set club record
III: THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY
It only took 16 seconds for the Blue Jackets to take the lead in their rematch with the Golden Knights, who overwhelmed them in a 6-3 win for Vegas on Jan. 23 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Panarin did the honors, scoring his 21st goal of the season off the rebound of an attempt in front by Cam Atkinson. Funny that Atkinson was involved, because he's one of two players who've scored the two fastest goals in franchise history.
Rick Nash and Atkinson each scored goals 10 seconds into games to set the mark, with Atkinson the most recent to do it - scoring that quickly Mar. 28, 2013 in Edmonton. Panarin's goal was the fastest scored this season by Columbus, topping Josh Anderson's goal 30 seconds into a game Dec. 9 here against the Arizona Coyotes by 14 seconds.
"I thought [Panarin's] game dipped a little bit, about six or seven games ago," Tortorella said. "He's beginning to come alive here. He's just so strong on the puck. He's a competitor. He competes and he's a game-breaker, and that's important for us here as we're trying to get some wins as we go through the end of the season."
Video: VGK@CBJ: Panarin scores 16 seconds into the game
IV: 'WILD BILL' RETURNS
Following the Golden Knights' morning skate Tuesday at Nationwide Arena, the team released a funny video clip from inside the visiting locker room.
Jonathan Marchessault, a former Blue Jackets prospect, asked former Blue Jackets center William Karlsson if he thought Columbus would give Karlsson a video montage tribute in his first game back at Nationwide Arena.
"I scored six goals, all last year … so probably not," said Karlsson, who entered the game tied for fourth in the NHL with 35 goals.
The Blue Jackets did give him a tribute, with a big action shot of him in a Golden Knights uniform that was displayed on the video board during an early stoppage.
There was a nice round of applause, followed by a live shot of the Vegas bench, where Karlsson acknowledged Blue Jackets fans with a wave of his right hand. Karlsson played parts of three seasons with the Blue Jackets, including full seasons the past two. He scored nine goals in 2015-16 and six goals last season. Having 35 at this point has even surprised him.
"I mean, 35 goals is maybe not what I expected … but here we are," said Karlsson, whose line was kept off the scoresheet. "I don't see why I should stop. I'll start with 36 and then we'll see [about 40]."
V: A GOAL FOR COLE
Ian Cole thought he'd scored his first goal with the Blue Jackets in the victory against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at SAP Center.
Instead, that goal was credited to Panarin, who reached his stick out in the low slot after Cole hammered a slap shot on net from the right point. Panarin told Cole afterward that he never touched the puck, but NHL goal officials on site disagreed - giving Cole his first point as a Blue Jacket instead, with the primary assist.
There was no doubt about the goal he scored against the Golden Knights in the second period, giving Columbus a 3-1 lead. Cole sent a shot toward the net from near the left point and the puck beat Fleury - his former teammate with the Pittsburgh Penguins - inside the left post to the short side of the net.
"I'm sure he's not real happy about it," Cole said. "I feel like I should go apologize or something. I beat him with the knuckle-puck."
Cole, who's played five games since being acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 26, now has points in back-to-back games (one goal, one assist).
"It's good to score goals, but what's most important now is getting wins," he said. "Points are great, but wins are what really matter, if we want to get in the playoffs and make a run. As long as we're thinking about that the points will come."
Video: VGK@CBJ: Cole wires wrist shot past Fleury
VI: NEW ADDITION
Matt Calvert received the news that his wife, Courtney Rae, had gone into labor about halfway through the team's flight home from San Jose on Monday. Calvert was the first one off the plane upon arriving in Columbus and headed for the hospital.
His son, Beau, was born Monday night. Calvert didn't attend the Blue Jackets' morning skate at Nationwide Arena, but played 15:14against the Golden Knights.
VIII: NEXT UP
The Blue Jackets don't play Wednesday and will begin their 16th of 17 back-to-backs this season against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM).
It will be the finale of the two-game season series, with Colorado looking to sweep after defeating the Blue Jackets 2-0 on Jan. 4 at Pepsi Center in Denver. The Avalanche, who played the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at United Center, began the day a point behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card in the Western Conference.
The Blue Jackets will conclude the back-to-back set against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at Nationwide Arena.