TRAVERSE CITY -- The Blue Jackets' second game of the NHL Prospects Tournament was a story of physicality, special teams, and one memorably wild (no pun intended) third period, with Columbus coming out on top by a score of 8-5 over Minnesota.
The Jackets started confidently, showing none of Friday’s jitters, and skated a penalty-free first period. Captain TJ Tynan once again scored the first goal of the game (set up by Kerby Rychel and Oliver Bjorkstrand), and camp invite Dante Salituro made it 2-0 Columbus later in the first period by finishing a play that Josh Anderson started.
The Wild cut the Columbus lead to 2-1 with 4:30 to go in the first, and the opening frame ended with each team taking only one penalty and tied in shots at 10 apiece.
The second period was a ride that no one saw coming. The Jackets' team play became less disciplined and the Wild scored three unanswered goals – two on the power play and one shorthanded.
“The first period was pretty good,” Bjorkstrand, who led the way with a five-point night, told BlueJackets.com. “We seemed ready, and then obviously in the second we kind of let down.”
While the Wild converted on special teams opportunities, the Jackets were unable to respond and fought through two unsuccessful power plays of their own. On the third opportunity, when Minnesota’s Tanner Eberle was called for elbowing, defenseman Michael Paliotta – acquired in the Brandon Saad trade in the off-season – scored a power play goal that was set up by Sonny Milano.
In the midst of the penalty marathon, hulking defenseman Oleg Yevenko took issue with the Wild’s Hunter Warner (who may be re-thinking his decision to drop the gloves after the 6-foot-7 Yevenko won a convincing decision, landing four consecutive blows).
The Blue Jackets finished a crazy second period down 4-3, taking only one goal but four penalties with them into the locker room.
But a very different team stepped on the ice to start the third period.
“Coach had a speech for us, and told us to figure it out and be better than we were in the second,” Bjorkstrand said. “That helped get us going in the third.”
And get going they did.
Columbus added its own streak of three uncontested goals to start the period with a power play goal from Paul Bittner, which was followed quickly by tallies from Daniel Zaar and Bjorkstrand to make it a 6-4 lead.
The Wild scored on the power play a few minutes later to get one back, but the Jackets seemed determined to hang on to this lead and finish the job.
Bjorkstrand restored a two-goal Jackets lead with a highlight reel-worthy wrister, and Tynan added an empty netter with 2:21 left to play that sealed the final margin.
Bjorkstrand said he was getting more and more comfortable on the ice and it showed. The 20-year-old also holds the team lead for the tournament with seven points (three goals, four assists) and eight shots on goal. His three goals are equal to Tynan for the team lead.
“(The) motivation is to show all the scouts in Columbus that you want to make the team,” Bjorkstrand said.
With tonight’s win, the Blue Jackets are 2-0-0 in the tournament. The currently hold the lead in the Ted Lindsay Division and face the New York Rangers on Monday at 3:30 p.m. A victory over the Rangers will secure a spot in the championship game for Columbus.