“We’ve had a real tough first 50 games when a lot of things haven’t gone right for us. This gives us hope that, moving forward, we can be a good hockey team.”
Those were the words of Blue Jackets associate coach Craig Hartsburg after his team completed a back-to-back, home-and-home sweep of the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. Not only did they finish the sweep, but the Blue Jackets did so with identical 5-2 finals, and many of the same players did the damage.
One of those constants was rookie goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who is now unbeaten in regulation over his last five starts (4-0-1) and has allowed two or fewer goals in all five of them.
The 21-year-old Finn has opened eyes in the Blue Jackets organization but also throughout the league, and he was excellent in his second start in as many nights. He made 29 saves – 19 in the final two periods – to withstand multiple Montreal flurries and give his teammates a chance to respond.
“He’s a young goalie that is getting some great experience right now, and he’s taking it on his shoulders saying ‘I’m ready for it,’’ Hartsburg said. “He’s calm. His demeanor gives the rest of the team a lot of confidence.”
Unlike last night, the Blue Jackets struck first tonight and never trailed.
Boone Jenner and Scott Hartnell scored power play goals in the first period to send Columbus into the break ahead 2-0, a cushion that they would need in the second period when Montreal mounted a rally.
Devante Smith-Pelly scored a goal off a wild scramble in the Blue Jackets zone at 5:22 of the second period, but Brandon Dubinsky – one third of a red-hot line with Jenner and Cam Atkinson – responded midway through the period to restore a two-goal lead.
Think about this: that line of Jenner, Dubinsky and Atkinson combined for 14 points – six goals and eight assists – in this two-game series with the Canadiens. That’s ridiculous.
The Blue Jackets needed more heroics from Atkinson, who scored his third career hat trick on Monday night, to put the game away after Montreal pulled within a goal early in the third period. On the Canadiens’ sixth power play, they finally cashed in, as Alex Galchenyuk rifled a one-time feed from PK Subban past Korpisalo at 3:45.
An alert play by Dubinsky in the neutral zone sent Atkinson off on a foot race and he won it, creating separation on the defense and poking the puck through the pads of Ben Scrivens with 2:57 to go. That goal, Atkinson’s 17th of the season (oh look, he’s on pace for 20-plus goals once again!) bumped the Blue Jackets’ lead to 4-2 before Brandon Saad tacked on an empty-netter at 18:38.
Saad had three goals in the two-game set and leads the Blue Jackets with 19 goals at the break. He's four shy of his previous career high with 31 games remaining.
The Blue Jackets know they have their penalty killers and their goaltender to thank for some major assistance tonight, as they can now go into the All-Star break with a boost of positive momentum.
“Our kill did a great job,” said Matt Calvert. “We’ve been on the reverse side of it and frustrates your power play and frustrates your top guys. They’re booing them, it frustrates a player, and it’s something we tried to build on tonight.
“(The sweep) is something to feel good about. It’s about time we had a good feeling back in here. We’ll relax, have a good break and come back ready to push hard.”