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Bjorkstrand coming up big during key stretch for Blue Jackets

Winger has goals in three straight games

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

On his first shift of the game Tuesday, Oliver Bjorkstrand built up some speed and took a pass from Alexander Wennberg as he entered the offensive zone. 

Bjorkstrand could have done any number of things there, and it seems clear what Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer expected him to do - put a shot on net on his backhand from the short side. 

Bjorkstrand had other ideas. Instead, he lowered his shoulder and cut behind the net, then popped out at Grubauer's right post and quickly flicked the puck by the Avalanche goaltender before he could get to the far side. 

Video: CBJ@COL: Bjorkstrand opens scoring with wraparound

 

It was a goal-scorer's goal, as they say, and Bjorkstrand should fancy himself a goal scorer. But most importantly, the tally showed that the Blue Jackets winger is playing with more confidence, enough to put in such an individual effort goal just 53 seconds into what felt like a must-win game for Columbus. 

"I'm trying to," he said when asked if he's playing with more confidence after the Blue Jackets' 6-3 win. "Obviously, every time you get a few goals it helps your confidence. I don't want to lose it. I want to keep it going, and to keep playing good hockey, you have to play with confidence. I can't lose that, and it's something I have to work on." 

The 2018-19 season has been an up-and-down year for the Danish winger, but recently it's been more up than down for the 2013 third-round draft pick.  

The frustration was palpable from head coach John Tortorella earlier this year. He had just one open spot in his lineup and challenged Bjorkstrand and Anthony Duclair to earn it, with the results varying on a nightly basis. 

But Tortorella has been able to change his tune a bit during Bjorkstrand's recent run of success. His goal against the Avalanche gave Bjorkstrand goals in three straight games for the first time in his career, and it gave the winger four goals in the team's last six games - and some time on the ice with the team's top offensive performers. 

Tortorella was particularly complimentary of Bjorkstrand after his showing in Saturday night's loss to St. Louis, and the 23-year-old didn't do anything to change that with his showing against the Avalanche. 

"I think Bjorky has played really hard for a while now," Tortorella said. "And has taken to heart how he has to play, trying to get into open areas, trying to battle for pucks so he can have it more offensively. I think it has really transformed where he wasn't getting chances even though he was playing hard; now (the puck) seems to be following him around a little bit. He was one of our best players the last couple of games 

"He's an important guy," Tortorella said, "but he has to stay on top of himself." 

Bjorkstand appears to be trying to do just that. His shot, sneaky quick with some deception to it and excellent accuracy, is one of the best in the league. He also has good vision, making him a player who can be a legitimate top-six forward in the NHL after a decorated junior career in which he scored 144 goals and totaled 290 points in three seasons with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks. 

With such a strong offensive pedigree, he hasn't shied away from the fact his season hasn't been exactly what he expected from himself, especially after he had an impressive 6-7-13 line in 26 games as a 21-year-old two years ago and posted 11 goals and 40 points a season ago. 

That performance earned him a new three-year contract in July, signaling the Blue Jackets believe the winger is a core piece the Blue Jackets are trying to build around. That's another reason the slow start to the season, with three goals in the first 30 games, was so frustrating to both player and team. 

Now the goal is to keep the momentum going. 

"The test is to keep going on with that and not fall back," he said. "That seems to be a little bit of a problem with me, especially this year. I have some good games and some bad games. I have to have more good games." 

How can he do that? 

"The mindset in the brain and how you approach games and going into them," he said. "I never go into a game thinking I'm going to play like (crap), but you learn along the way and you just learn to be ready, I guess." 

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