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Playing like an 'absolute man,' Dubois putting Blue Jackets on his back

Third-year center leading the charge, Atkinson says after game winner

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

As he finished up his media scrum after the Blue Jackets' 4-3 win at Toronto on Monday, Nick Foligno was asked about the play of Pierre-Luc Dubois. 

As Foligno headed to the showers, it was suggested Dubois' goal in that game - a play where he picked up the puck in the corner, fended off Auston Matthews, got to the net and scored from in close - was a "big-boy goal." 

"That's right," Foligno said with a smile. "He's got four of them now (this season)." 

Last night, he added a big-boy assist to his total. With the Blue Jackets in their fourth straight overtime, Dubois spun off the left-wing wall in the neutral zone and simply skated right through the checking attempt of Martin Necas.  

From there, it was off to the races, as Dubois skated in on goalie Petr Mrazek on a 2-on-1 and then fed Cam Atkinson at the back post for a stuff-in goal that gave the Blue Jackets the victory in Nationwide Arena. 

Video: CAR@CBJ: Dubois feeds Atkinson for overtime winner

It's reached the point, now, where the Blue Jackets are running out of creative ways to describe his power forward moves that only a select few in the NHL can execute. 

"He made the play," said Atkinson, who pointed at Dubois immediately after scoring the winner. "It was a hell of a play. He's been playing like an absolute man, like a horse, bringing me, bringing all the other guys he's been playing with into the fight and just leading the charge. I was hoping he was going to find me there back door, and I just tried to get open for him. It all started for him, and I just thanked him for getting the monkey off the back again." 

It was also the latest example of the yin and yang of Dubois and Atkinson working together to create some magic. They might not look that much alike -- Atkinson the sniper at 5-foot-8, Dubois the 6-foot-3 moose who can use his body to outmuscle foes -- but the two share a competitive spirit and have formed a chemistry that continues on even after the departure of former left winger Artemi Panarin. 

"It's fun," Dubois said of setting up his longtime linemate for the winner, snapping Atkinson's six-game goalless streak. "Everybody here knows what Cam can do. Even if he wasn't scoring, you could feel this coming. Big goal is an understatement, but that was a big goal for us tonight." 

Tweet from @BlueJacketsNHL: when you see your #cbj buddies in the office this morning pic.twitter.com/JQjUJSO5s0

For John Tortorella, the winner was "a hell of a power move" by Dubois, but there was a play that also stood out to the head coach in the latter stage of the Carolina game. 

"He spanked (6-foot-4, 220-pound veteran Jordan) Staal coming out of the corner in the third period too, I think it was," Tortorella said. "Staal is a big, strong kid and Luc just spanked him to bring it to the net.  

"I just think he feels that good about his game, how strong and how confident he is with the puck, that he's just taking people on. He's been really good here for a number of games." 

Strength has never been a concern for Dubois, though he's certainly increased that coming into the season, as the massive forward looks like the first player you'd send off the bus before a game to show an opponent you mean business. Durability hasn't been a concern, either, as he's yet to miss a game in his career. But there's also plenty of skill in the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, as he now has 51 goals and 115 points in 171 career games.

If the Blue Jackets are to take the step the team hopes to take this season, much of it will be because of the maturing of such players as Dubois, youngsters who make another leap forward in their development while moving into bigger and bigger roles. 

"He's such a big body that you can't contain him, and he has the skill and speed to burn," Foligno said. "It gives the room confidence when you see a guy like him. You know you have to follow that." 

So far, so good for Dubois, who has six points in the last eight games and leads the team with four goals. But perhaps most impressively is he's doing it on a night-in, night-out basis, which can be the hardest thing for a 21-year-old like himself to achieve.  

"I think that's one thing I had to learn," Dubois said. "It's not easy in this league. There are games where you're tired mentally, you're tired physically, your legs are heavy, you feel like you weigh 300 pounds. And you still have to go out there and do your job. That's one thing I've learned, how to cope with and how to spark myself even if I don't feel that great. That's a big part of being consistent." 

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