Cam Atkinson picked one hell of a night for the biggest game of his NHL career.
With the Blue Jackets desperately needing a win and two points in the standings to keep pace with Minnesota and Detroit ahead of them, the 23-year-old sniper delivered in the clutch. Not only did he open the scoring just 19 seconds into a must-win game for both clubs, he snapped in the insurance goal with 1:40 left in regulation.
After the Red Wings earned a 5-2 win on home ice over Nashville (ironically the Jackets' opponent in the regular-season finale on Saturday at Nationwide Arena), Columbus needed to break a 1-1 tie in the third period to make it a worthwile weekend. When all was said and done, the 3-1 final at American Airlines Center gave the Blue Jackets the necessary points and completed a 5-1-0 road trip that began almost two weeks ago in the Twin Cities.
Despite the Stars being officially eliminated from playoff contention after the Red Wings' win, they poured it on in the second period and gave the Blue Jackets everything they could handle. The first 10-plus minutes were controlled by the Blue Jackets, but Dallas roared back and tied the game on the power play in the second period - and after the Jamie Benn goal to make it a 1-1 game, the Stars carried the play until the second intermission.
But it appeared as if the 40-minute break came at just the right time for Todd Richards and his hockey club, who re-grouped in the locker room and got back to their game in final stanza. Mark Letestu's team-leading 13th goal of the season was a wicked slap shot from the right point that put Columbus in front at 7:56 of the third period, but the Blue Jackets never took their foot off the gas pedal.
Sergei Bobrovsky was solid once again for Columbus, making 31 saves for his 20th win of the season. He did his best work in the second period when he faced 15 Dallas shots and a handful of quality chances, allowing only the Benn goal off the rush.
Now it all comes down to Saturday night: if the Red Wings lose in regulation and the Blue Jackets win, they're in.
Letestu's go-ahead goal was the defining moment of the game for the Blue Jackets, who needed to see the puck go in the net after so many chances in the second and third period. The puck took a quick ricochet off Eric Nystrom's stick about five feet from release, and Kari Lehtonen never got a good look at it.
- Brandon Dubinsky has been the engine to the Jackets' forecheck and he was terrific tonight in Dallas, disrupting passing lanes and finishing checks all over the ice. He played 20:17, picked up two assists and won 14-of-26 face-offs to lead all players in that department.
- Once again, Blake Comeau was a great fit on the Dubinsky line with Atkinson as Matt Calvert sits out with a broken finger. It's hard to replace a guy like Calvert, but Comeau has shown his offensive game as well as keen awareness in all three zones, making it easy for Richards to keep sending that line out there in big situations.
- As if scoring two huge goals wasn't enough, Atkinson led all players with seven shots on goal in the game and was a menace on the forecheck. In the most pressure-packed game of his career, he was a star.
- The Blue Jackets' defense stepped up tonight and slowed down Dallas' quick cycle game. Benn, Cole, Eriksson...they're all big bodies who can make plays and create separation, but they weren't afforded much room to operate tonight.
vs. Nashville Predators
Nationwide Arena | Columbus, OH
Saturday, 7 p.m.