The task is tall and the hill is steep, but the Blue Jackets knew they had to start the unofficial second half on a winning note.
BLUE JACKETS 4 | CAPITALS 3
Standing in their way tonight was a Washington Capitals team that, though struggling of late, has been one of the best in the Eastern Conference this season. But the Blue Jackets started the game on time and had plenty of energy right from the get-go, resembling the team that went 10-1-1 earlier in the season and at times overwhelmed the Capitals.
Columbus had nothing to show for a solid first period, but the teams combined for five goals in the second period and the Blue Jackets led 3-2 after two periods. They led 4-2 midway through the third period but held on late to earn two big points out of the break in front of 16,514 at Nationwide Arena.
“I liked the way we played the third period,” said Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards. “We had great opportunities, we generated some chances offensively and did a lot of good things.”
Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves and kept the Blue Jackets in the game, despite yielding two quick response goals in the second period after Columbus took two two-goal leads. He was very good in the first period and held the fort in the third, as the Blue Jackets took over and played most of the game in the Washington zone.
And one of the positive signs was a multi-point game for Cam Atkinson, who scored the game-winner at 5:20 of the third period - his first goal in 14 games - playing on a line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. His initial shot hit Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom in the face, leaving Backstrom stunned but the rebound right in the slot for Atkinson, who beat Braden Holtby over the shoulder to give Columbus a 4-2 lead.
“We stuck with it,” Atkinson said. “When you’re playing with a couple All-Stars, they make plays and find you. I just tried to get open and use my speed and quickness, and I was shooting the puck as much as I could.
“We need to win pretty much the majority of these games here, and this is a great start. Confidence is huge for this group and we have to keep it going.”
If not for Holtby, the game could easily have gotten out of hand in the third period. The Blue Jackets were dominant at times and grade-A chances for Atkinson, Johansen and Nick Foligno were turned away in tight, and right down the ice, Evgeny Kuznetsov closed the lead to 4-3 with 7:51 to go.
Also of note tonight: Mark Letestu scored his fifth goal of the season to open the scoring, Fedor Tyutin scored his second of the year late in the second and Corey Tropp set up Letestu’s goal with a fantastic pass from the left wing - his first point in 28 games.
The Blue Jackets took a 4-2 lead in the third period on Atkinson’s goal, but five seconds after the goal, they had to kill a penalty. Jared Boll was sent off for hooking on the ensuing faceoff, but the penalty killers did solid work against one of the league’s better power plays. They survived 15 shot attempts from Alex Ovechkin, took away passing lanes and sacrificed the body in shooting lanes, doing the necessary things to kill the penalty and give the bench a lift headed down the stretch.
at Florida Panthers
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET