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Labatt Recap: Veterans step up in win over NHL-leading Stars

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets





John Tortorella and his players likely have differing tastes in music, but he wants nothing more than to hear the radio blaring down the hallway after games.

The bumping bass is an indication that the Blue Jackets have just won a hockey game, something they haven’t done often enough lately – and it’s been a mixed bag of efforts and results along the way.

Tonight, against the NHL’s top team, they put in 60 minutes of quality work and were rewarded with the desired result. The Blue Jackets knocked off the Dallas Stars with a 6-3 win at Nationwide Arena, snapping a three-game losing streak in front of a lively and involved home crowd.

Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno, the latter making his return after a three-game injury absence, each had three assists, Curtis McElhinney turned in another solid performance by making 40 saves, and Scott Hartnell made a big play in the third period to put the game away.

Challenged this weekend by Tortorella – it would be fair to say “called out” – the Blue Jackets were catalyzed by three of their leaders and most experienced players tonight.

“I was proud of everyone’s answer and effort (tonight),” Foligno said. “We have to continue to do that, it can’t be one and done, and we have to string a lot together. It was nice to see everyone smiling.”

And there was plenty of smiling and celebrating, the six goals one shy of the Blue Jackets’ highest offensive output (seven) which came a couple of weeks ago in Arizona. The six goals came from six different goal scorers, all at even strength, with one in particular coming at a very opportune time.

Late in the second period, Hartnell was flagged for a questionable slashing penalty, sending Dallas’ lethal power play to work with under five minutes left in the frame and trailing 3-2.

Not only did the Blue Jackets kill the penalty, but Hartnell joined them in the offensive zone after the penalty expired and caused all kinds of havoc around goaltender Antti Niemi, who came on in relief of starter Kari Lehtonen. Hartnell, Dubinsky and Brandon Saad all had chances in tight on a long shift, and Saad capped it off by scoring his 14th goal of the season with 1:17 remaining.

“It was a huge penalty kill,” Tortorella said. “I thought that was very important – that’s a big one to kill off. Saader’s goal was a big goal to go into the third period (ahead by two). That’s a very important goal to score before the intermission.

“Our second periods have been a struggle as far as making big plays at key times, so that was good to see. Did we make mistakes? Yeah, you’re going to make mistakes against that team, but found a way to leave the second period with a two-goal lead and that was very important.”

In the third period, a quick goal by Patrick Sharp brought Dallas within a goal at 4-3, but 'within a goal' was as close as they’d get after tying the game early in the first period.

Hartnell’s key play came about by putting pressure on Niemi and chasing a loose puck 150 feet down the ice, forcing the goaltender into a big mistake. Niemi tried to bank it off the boards and up the ice but instead made a perfect pass to Hartnell, who turned and fired into an empty net, giving the Blue Jackets a 5-3 lead midway through the third period.

McElhinney made timely stops down the stretch to keep the margin intact, including a sliding save on John Klingberg and a monstrous glove grab to deny Sharp’s breakaway attempt that came mere moments after Hartnell’s goal.

“We have a long hill to climb and a long way to go, but we’ll enjoy this one,” Dubinsky said. "(McElhinney) was great, and he was great in Florida, too. He was phenomenal for us tonight, deserved to be the No 1 star, and certainly was.”

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