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Labatt Recap: Atkinson's hat trick leads Blue Jackets over Canadiens

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Brandon Dubinsky
said it best in the locker room: the Blue Jackets have been on the other side of games like tonight’s, and far more often than they’d like.

So, as you can imagine, this one felt pretty good.

Locked in a 2-2 after 40 minutes at Nationwide Arena against a desperate Montreal Canadiens team fighting for its playoff life, the Blue Jackets put the pedal down and pulled away – making for a welcomed, needed celebratory finish on home ice.

Cam Atkinson led the way with his third career hat trick and Brandon Saad supplied the other two goals, giving Joonas Korpisalo more than enough breathing room after a 32-save performance and 5-2 win, snapping a three-game losing skid.

“We played hard. We were opportunistic,” said Brandon Dubinsky, who had three assists in nearly 20 minutes of work. “We buried some of our chances. (Montreal) had a real strong push there, especially in the third period. We weathered the storm and we buried our opportunities.”

The line of Atkinson, Dubinsky and Boone Jenner was active and involved right from the start, causing problems for Montreal on the forecheck and establishing zone time in the first period. Atkinson’s first goal answered a Brendan Gallagher tally 10:39 into the game (a 5-on-3 goal), and he capped off a great piece of puck pursuit work by his linemates, beating Mike Condon from the hash marks at 14:40.

Atkinson’s second gave the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead early in the second period, this time scoring on a sneaky backhand shot from the right circle that eluded a handful of bodies and also Condon before going into the net.

But this game had its bizarre moments, the first coming off the stick of PK Subban, who was a game-time decision for Montreal due to the flu.

Subban regrouped in the neutral zone, stepped across center ice and blasted an 85-foot shot past Korpisalo to tie the game 2-2 at 8:36.

For many young goalies, that kind of goal might have rattled them and caused the game to unravel, but as associate coach Craig Hartsburg said after the game, credit goes to Korpisalo for collecting himself and bouncing back. The young Finn slammed the door after Subban’s goal and made 11 saves in the third period.

WATCH: All three goals from Cam Atkinson's hat trick

Saad's first goal broke a 2-2 tie with 9:06 gone by in the third period, and after Alex Wennberg won a board battle with Condon on the bench for an extra attacker, he scored his second into the empty cage. Atkinson completed the hat trick on a 3-on-1 with Dubinsky and Jenner with 24.8 seconds left.

In Atkinson’s mind, the hat trick was a nice reward, but the strong “team” win is what pleased him most.

“I thought we played a really good game. All the lines were going, the (defense) joined the rush and Korpi found a way to shut the door for us,” Atkinson said.

And after a game in Boston two nights ago where the Blue Jackets played but lacked the desired result, Hartsburg was pleased to see his team close the deal against another strong opponent.

“It wasn’t always pretty – we weren’t perfect. We didn’t crack,” Hartsburg said. “We made Montreal make some mistakes, which we capitalized on. It’s a good win and I’m excited for our guys. They battled hard.

“It was good for the crowd, to win at home first of all and have some big efforts. We need that shot of morale boost; it’s been a tough grind for everyone and they can feel good about this one. We have a big test tomorrow in Montreal, and we’ll have to be a lot better.”

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