BLUE JACKETS (12-12-6) 4, PREDATORS (11-13-6) 3
NATIONWIDE ARENA | COLUMBUS, OH
The Blue Jackets knew they would get the Predators' best punch tonight, and though it took about 56 minutes to land, they had to absorb a vicious right hook before earning a hard-fought decision.
Neither the players nor coach Todd Richards were particularly pleased with their performance in the final three minutes of regulation, as the Blue Jackets had built a 4-1 advantage but "relaxed" in the words of Richards. They controlled much of the play from the second period until the game's waning minutes, at times overwhelming the Predators in the offensive zone and making life easy for themselves and Sergei Bobrovsky by cleaning up rebounds and keeping the puck out of harm's way.
But even when there was a bump in the road, panic wasn't an option.
Playing in a desperate situation of their own, the Predators had to salvage something out of a dreadful road trip through western Canada that saw Pekka Rinne get pulled in two different games. In order to head back to Nashville with something, the Blue Jackets stood in their way -- but a late push wasn't enough. Despite a white-knuckled dash to the finish line in which Chris Mueller and Mike Fisher scored 47 seconds apart to cut the Jackets' lead to 4-3, Richards said the bench displayed confidence.
"We're okay -- that's why we have a three-goal lead," was the coach's message as he called the team to the bench with 1:14 left in the third period. The Blue Jackets kept it simple in exhausting the final seconds off the game clock, getting the puck of their zone and forgetting about the empty net at the other end.
When the horn sounded and the clock hit 0.0 inside Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets (30 points) equaled the eighth-place total in the Western Conference but will sit outside the bubble due to tiebreakers held by the Phoenix Coyotes. Nonetheless, a 7-0-4 stretch has Columbus in the hunt and with a sizable chip on its shoulder.
Oh, right...the rest of the game. It was eventful.
Fedor Tyutin, Mark Letestu, Nikita Nikitin and Derick Brassard scored in the first 52:41 to essentially put it out of reach, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thought Brassard's tally would stand as the game-winner. Vinny Prospal picked up three assists - including the 500th of his NHL career on Nikitin's goal in the third period - and was the No. 1 star of the game.
Nikitin's goal was the tipping point for the Blue Jackets, especially after Gabriel Bourque's goal stunted what seemed like a tidal wave of momentum for Columbus in the second period. In a 2-1 game, the Predators came out flying in the third period and came close to drawing even on a couple of chances -- but a David Legwand cross-checking penalty (hitting Ryan Johansen into the end boards) put the Jackets on a huge power play chance. Nikitin got a nifty drop pass from Prospal at the center point and ripped a one-timer past Rinne to boost the lead to 3-1.
- Tyutin scored the first goal of the game 4:08 into the second period to record his 134th point as a Blue Jacket and become the highest-scoring defenseman in team history. It was also the 200th point of his NHL career. He played 21:02 in the game and took four shots on goal.
- Letestu tallied 1-1-2 vs. Nashville to register his third multi-point game of the season. How versatile and clutch is this guy? Took four shots of his own tonight, was a +1 and shuffled his spot in the lineup when Nick Foligno missed some time in the second period.
- Jack Johnson logged a game-high 23:36 vs. Nashville and fired a game-high five shots on goal. Johnson also dished out a pair of assists to record his first multi-point game of 2012-13 and his second as a Blue Jacket.
- Bobrovsky stopped 32 Predators shots in improving to 10-6-5 on the season and 8-1-3 in his last 12 games played. Bobrovsky has now recorded a GAA of 1.56 and a SV% of .952 in his last dozen appearances.
vs. Calgary Flames
Friday, 7 p.m.