GAME DAY ON THE ROAD presented by:
Viktor Stalberg must have the calendar circled each time the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks meet up.
The rugged winger continued his torrid pace against the Blue Jackets this season last night at United Center, collecting a hat trick and leading the Blackhawks to a 5-2 win before a crowd of 21,229. Columbus dropped its first game under interim head coach Todd Richards, but got a solid effort in goal from Curtis Sanford, who kept the Blue Jackets in the game with several key saves early on.
Both teams got out to a sluggish start and traded penalties in a foggy first period. But it was the Blackhawks - seeking their first win in four games - that opened the scoring and forced the Blue Jackets into mistakes. With the Blue Jackets on a power play in the second period, Marian Hossa stole the puck in the neutral zone and fed Dave Bolland on a lead pass. Bolland made one move to his forehand and tucked it in for a 1-0 lead at 4:21.
Columbus responded on a goal from R.J. Umberger just over three minutes later. David Savard’s point shot got through to Corey Crawford, and Umberger was among a trio of Blue Jackets battling for the puck in the crease. He was the last to make contact and it evened the score at 1-1 at 7:54.
Two goals separated by 27 seconds in the third period allowed the Blackhawks to pull away. Stalberg’s second and a tally from Ben Smith pushed it to a 4-1 lead, with the Stalberg marker coming on an extended delayed penalty sequence.
Antoine Vermette’s sixth goal of the season pulled Columbus within a pair of goals at 8:32, but that was all the offense from the Blue Jackets on this night. Stalberg won a race for a loose puck with Sanford on the bench for an extra attacker, and tucked in the hat-trick goal with 1:40 to play.
After the Blue Jackets tied the game in the second period, the Blackhawks lost some steam and Columbus started to put a string of solid shifts together. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville put his top line on the ice to reverse the tide, and Stalberg came through with a momentum-turning goal.
Jonathan Toews got the puck to the front of the net, and Stalberg was right there in the slot to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead late in the period.
Umberger snapped a nine-game goalless skid with his seventh of the season. He last scored Dec. 17 vs. Tampa Bay. The goal was his 81st with the Blue Jackets, moving him within seven of tying Geoff Sanderson for third on the club’s all-time list. He has notched 4-7-11 the last 16 games after being held to 2-0-2 the previous 14 games.
Savard has assists in back-to-back games after notching an assist on Umberger’s goal. He has assists in four of his last six games.
Aaron Johnson recorded two assists on the night, his first multi-point game since Oct. 21 at Detroit, a span of 17 games. The multi-assist game matches a single-game career high and is the second of his career. His first was Mar. 16, 2004 at Edmonton. He has assists in back-to-back games after being held pointless the previous four games.
Vermette scored his first goal in four games with his sixth of the season tonight. He has registered 2-1-3 the last six games after being held pointless the previous eight games. He has collected 11-10-21 in 23 career games against the Blackhawks.
Ryan Johansen picked up an assist on Vermette’s goal. He has tallied 2-3-5 the last eight games after being held pointless the previous 10 games. He had two shots on goal tonight and has recorded at least one shot on goal in all but four games this season.
vs. Phoenix Coyotes
Nationwide Arena | Columbus, Ohio
Friday, 7 p.m.
TV: FOX Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1 The Fan & BlueJackets.com