BLUE JACKETS (22-17-7) 4, SHARKS (24-14-7) 3
HP PAVILION | SAN JOSE, CA
Ryan Johansen had previously scored four game-winning goals in his young NHL career, but none were more timely, breathtaking or downright massive than No. 5 tonight in San Jose.
Less than four minutes after a Joe Pavelski power play goal rallied the Sharks from a two-goal, third period deficit to tie the game at 3-3, Johansen pounced on a turnover created by RJ Umberger at the offensive blue line and took three strides right into the high slot. He unleashed a wicked wrister over a Sharks defenseman and past the blocker side of Antti Niemi to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 lead with 1:33 to play.
Suddenly the Sharks, who had lost once in regulation at home all season long entering tonight's game, were on the ropes for the second time in 20 minutes. They built plenty of momentum with a furious push in the third period and fired pucks from all angles (out-shooting Columbus by a 35-22 margin on the night), eventually breaking through for a pair of third-period tallies to bring the game level.
But their opponent was up to the task tonight and didn't let a quick burst from San Jose deter its flow - and full credit to the Blue Jackets' young players for stepping into the spotlight in the most important game of the season.
Oh, and there was a three-point night for Mark Letestu - the first of his career. The Blue Jackets' most versatile player was an X-factor tonight, scoring two of Columbus' first three goals and assisting on a breakaway goal for Vinny Prospal that gave the Jackets a 2-0 lead in the second period. The consistent pressure and forechecking presence allowed Todd Richards to roll four lines with ease and get everyone involved, creating a huge defensive issue for the Sharks (who didn't know who to key in on).
With the win, the Blue Jackets moved to 51 points on the season and into a virtual tie for seventh place in the Western Conference though tiebreakers have them alone in eighth place for the time being. Two games remain on the schedule: Thursday night in Dallas and Saturday night at Nationwide Arena against the Nashville Predators.
Breathe deep, Blue Jackets fans, and get ready for a franctic and emotional week around the NHL. And savor it: your team is right in the thick of it.
Letestu's second goal sent a clear message to the Sharks that the Blue Jackets weren't going to fold up after Martin Havlat made it a 2-1 hockey game. On their first power play opportunity, Letestu cashed in with a one-timer from the left point that sailed through Marian Gaborik's legs and behind Niemi. It boosted the Jackets' lead to 3-1 and, aside from Johansen's goal, was the most important of the hockey game.
- This was easily one of Johansen's most dangerous games as a professional. Sharks coach Todd McLellan started the game with Joe Thornton matched up against Johansen in the face-off circle, but quickly moved away as Johansen's line was spending a lot of time in the San Jose end. Johansen played 17:32 and won exactly 50 percent of his draws.
- Big night for Jack Johnson, too, using his size and strength to clear the front of the net and take the Sharks' forwards wide and to the perimeter. He did take a late penalty that led to the Pavelski goal, but made a great pass to Letestu in the first period to open the scoring.
- Columbus leaned heavily on its top nine players to bring this one home: Dubinsky played nearly 21 minutes, Umberger (20:09) and Foligno (20:34) also logged a ton of ice in the crucial moments to secure two points.
- Bobrovsky wasn't needed to steal one tonight, and perhaps that's a good thing for the Blue Jackets. He did made an assortment of big stops in the hockey game, and earned his 22nd win of the season by making 32 saves in a building that's traditionally unkind to the opposition.
at Dallas Stars
Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
American Airlines Center | Dallas, TX