BLUE JACKETS 3 | PANTHERS 2
It took a while for the Blue Jackets to get going in the third period, but once they did, they put the clamps on the Florida Panthers and set up a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins next week.
FINAL: JACKETS 3 | PANTHERS 2
Ryan Johansen's power play goal midway through the third period (his second point of the night, 33rd goal of the season) gave Columbus a 3-2 lead after a sluggish second period and average third. But all it took was one great passing play executed between Johansen and James Wisniewski for the Jackets power play to strike at a very opportune time.
With the victory, the Blue Jackets locked down the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, which means they'll face the Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning middle of next week, either Wednesday or Thursday in Pittsburgh. They also set a new franchise record for wins (43) and points (93), and go into the playoffs on a 5-2-1 clip after playing eight games in 12 days.
And the Blue Jackets, after a disappointing loss in Tampa last night, made sure they started tonight's game differently.
Cam Atkinson scored his 21st goal of the season just 47 seconds into the game, giving the Jackets an early lead that stood until late in the first period. A major penalty and ejection to Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski (elbowing Corey Tropp) gave Columbus a five-minute power play, but the only goal was a shorthanded tally by rookie Vincent Trocheck.
Jimmy Hayes gave Florida a 2-1 lead in the second period, but a power play goal from Mark Letestu made it 2-2 entering the third period. Johansen's power play goal, off a great pass from Wisniewski, capped the scoring and gave the Jackets two points in the finale.
"I think we stuck with it, and that's what good teams do," Atkinson said. "Obviously, (Luongo) is a world-class goalie and it's tough to get goals on him. We had a choice, and we wanted to play well and win. It's good to get a win at the end of the regular season and head into the playoffs. We're going to rejuvenate, come back in on Monday and prepare for Pittsburgh. It's going to be a tough series and we're ready for it."
The third period - at least the second half of it - tilted the ice for the Jackets and Johansen's goal gave them a big lift. The power play was effective tonight (two goals at key moments) and it was a huge factor in picking up the victory.
1. RYAN JOHANSEN (CBJ)
His 33rd goal of the season, a second period assist...just two more points in what's been a fantastic season for the 21-year-old center.
2. JAMES WISNIEWSKI (CBJ)
His set up of the Johansen goal in the third period was beautiful. He keeps racking up points on the Jackets' blueline and his production has been key for the power play.
3. SERGEI BOBROVSKY (CBJ)
A strong effort from Bobrovsky tonight, and he had to make some big saves in the second period to keep the score close. He goes into the playoffs playing well, which is what the Jackets were hoping for.
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS - RD. 1
VS. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
START DATE TBD