Joonas Korpisalo was the poster child for a tough-luck loss tonight.
The kid goaltender has been terrific for the Blue Jackets – winning six of his last eight starts (6-1-1) entering tonight’s game – but this may have been his best performance to date.
Korpisalo made 44 saves in regulation and overtime, yielded two in a four-round skills competition and for his valiant effort, he was the recipient of a shootout loss tonight at Nationwide Arena.
What a cruel game.
Some of his work was jaw-dropping, including overtime saves on Travis Hamonic on Nick Leddy to keep the game going, and at times, he was the only reason the Blue Jackets were in the game. Columbus was out-shot 46-31 in the game, 15-5 in the third period and had to hang on down the stretch as the Islanders camped out in the Blue Jackets’ end.
It was quick, then slow. Ugly, then artful. This game had it all, but the only thing missing for the Blue Jackets and Korpisalo was the extra point that the 21-year-old netminder certainly deserved.
John Tortorella has spoken on several occasions recently about Korpisalo’s resolve, and in particular, how he shook off a center-ice goal by Montreal’s PK Subban back on Jan. 25 and responded with a lock-down performance that night and the next night, then picked up two straight wins on the recent western Canada road trip.
Tonight, there more evidence of that stubborn make-up.
Ryan Strome scored on a bang-bang face-off play only 56 seconds into the game, and the Blue Jackets were again forced to play from behind against the Islanders.
Thanks to the red-hot top line, the Blue Jackets got it back on level terms later in the first period. Brandon Dubinsky fed Cam Atkinson seven minutes into the frame, and Atkinson snapped a quick shot past Jaroslav Halak to make it a 1-1 game.
And those two weren’t done.
They teamed up for another goal less than four minutes later, beginning with an alert neutral zone play by Atkinson to lead a 2-on-1 rush with Dubinsky. Atkinson held and faked a shot, then slid the puck across to Dubinsky, who had an open cage to give Columbus a 2-1 lead at 11:26.
"Our first period obviously was our best period," Tortorella said. "The second period, with the long change, we got real sloppy trying to make plays to gain their zone. Our passing wasn’t there. We turned a lot of pucks over…and that’s where I thought we started getting ourselves in trouble.
"Judging from the first period, I thought we were there. We played really well. Korpi gave us a chance."
Anders Lee’s nifty power play goal at 3:05 the third period was the last damage before the shootout, but even before that, the two teams put on a show in 3-on-3 overtime.
The Blue Jackets had their chances – Seth Jones, Brandon Saad and Atkinson all had grade-A looks – and the same could be said for the Islanders, but both goaltenders stood tall.
If you’re looking at positives (and that’s what Tortorella has vowed to do with his young team), the Blue Jackets have points in six of their last seven games going 4-1-2 in that span.
"No matter if it’s a bad play or a good play, (Korpisalo) keeps it flat-lined," Tortorella said. "It’s not ‘the kid’ anymore, it’s Korpisalo. Joonas Korpisalo. He has been a big a reason why we’ve found a way to get some points here, and especially tonight, he’s a big reason why."