Third periods haven’t been the calling card of the Blue Jackets this season. Too many times, the Jackets have gone into the final frame and blinked first, allowing a bad bounce or a defensive breakdown to push the game out of reach.
BLUE JACKETS 2 | PANTHERS 1
But in this first contest of a new month, the Blue Jackets’ third period was one of resolve and simplicity, one that ended their six-game losing streak.
“It was the way that I think we have to win, a commitment to defend," coach Todd Richards said. "We were opportunistic a little bit as far as being able to get two, but a 2-1 game to me right now is perfect.”
The Blue Jackets have been outscored in third periods this season 36-15. Welcoming in a Florida Panthers team that has struggled to find offense this season, it was certainly feasible that the Jackets would find themselves in a close game situation in the third period tonight.
But the Blue Jackets carried play for good stretches of what overall felt like a sleepy third period, out-shooting the Panthers 12-9 and capitalizing when it mattered most. That was when Boone Jenner forced the puck to the front of the Panthers net, sliding it across the goalmouth where Kerby Rychel collected and quickly swung it right back to the net. Al Montoya made the initial save but Jenner was there to slam in the rebound at 10:05 of the third for a prototypical Jenner goal.
It was Rychel’s first NHL point in his first game at Nationwide Arena.
"I was on the hook for that penalty that they scored on,” said Rychel, referring to a high-sticking penalty in the second period that led to an Aaron Ekblad goal. “I wanted to make a difference and do something good for the team. Fortunately, our line got a goal.”
“We want to be on the right side of those one-goal games and tonight was one of those games that was a battle to the end,” said Jenner. “For a few games we’ve been on the wrong side of that, and it’s little breaks here and there. I think we worked for that.”
Jenner talked about working for breaks and doing the little things, things that Richards has spoken about all year. The Jackets opened the month of December taking small steps to rectify the third period demons that tormented them throughout November.
“Going through a stretch like this is not easy, and it weighs on you,” said Richards. “When it weighs on you, the frustration becomes draining. What I’d like to see is us win a few games, to feel confident about our game, and then we can start playing.”