The Blue Jackets played a well-rounded, complete game tonight at Madison Square Garden.
And in the dying minutes of regulation, they got a first-hand look at how fine the line is between the desired result and the undesired result.
Locked in a 1-1 tie with the Rangers, Columbus got its first power play of the game with less than five minutes to play. They had fought back to tie the game earlier in the period on a Cam Atkinson breakaway goal, and were given a great opportunity to grab a late lead and head home with two points.
Marc Staal's tripping penalty gave them that chance with 4:41 to play, but the Blue Jackets did not execute well on the power play and it ended up costing them.
Brandon Dubinsky and Seth Jones got wires crossed at the offensive blue line and the puck came free to Derek Stepan, who scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 2:48 remaining. The Blue Jackets got Joonas Korpisalo to the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute, but came up one goal short in a 2-1 defeat.
“I thought we played a pretty solid game,” Atkinson said. “We can’t turn that puck over on the power play that led to their goal. Korpi had a heck of a game and kept us in it, but we’ve got to find a way to get more pucks to the net and cause more havoc and pounce on some rebounds.”
Korpisalo was excellent once again, allowing two goals or fewer for the 12th time in his last 17 appearances. He made 21 saves, but more than a handful were game-changers, coming at key moments in the game or getting whistles to give his teammates a break.
Before the Stepan goal, the only puck to beat Korpisalo was a bad-angle attempt from Mats Zuccarello with 2:19 left in the first period.
At the other end, the Rangers gave Henrik Lundqvist a rare night off, leaving the net to backup Antti Raanta – and he showed little sign of rust. Raanta came up with timely stops on Dubinsky, Atkinson, Boone Jenner and others en route to a 26-save performance that backstopped the Rangers to two important points.
Nearly 25 minutes of game time elapsed before Atkinson equalized at 3:46 of the third period and it was a terrific individual play. Atkinson read Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi’s intended pass perfectly, picked it off at the blue line, and took off uncontested on Raanta.
Raanta made the first save but Atkinson stayed put and scored on the rebound, his 20th of the season to make him the fourth Blue Jacket to hit that mark in 2015-16.
They could have had a few others if not for Raanta, which makes the late mistake and this particular result all the more frustrating.
“There wasn’t much room for either team as far as scoring chances. We talked about not opening up and just staying with it,” coach John Tortorella said. “I thought we did a lot of good things. We defended well, but we have to find a way to win.”