CALGARY, Alta. - It was the perfect way for Pierre-Luc Dubois to get his first NHL hat trick Thursday night at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Late in the third period of the Blue Jackets' 5-1 victory against the Calgary Flames, their second win in a row and 12th in the past 13 games, defenseman Markus Nutivaara used the long stick in his grasp to break up a rush just inside the Columbus blue line.
Oliver Bjorkstrand scooped the puck. He wheeled and fired a laser of a stretch pass across the ice, through the neutral zone, to Sonny Milano drifting just outside the Calgary blue line.
In the matter of a couple seconds, the puck had been stolen and passed ahead by three key pieces of the Blue Jackets' future, both near and long term - two second-year guys and a rookie, Milano, who knew exactly where that puck was going next.
Before it even got to him, Milano saw Dubois get a head of steam through the neutral zone, hitting the afterburners as he approached the Flames' blue line, up the left wing. One rookie to another, Milano threaded a perfect diagonal pass to Dubois, who was set up alone in the bottom of the left-wing circle.
Dubois did the rest, rifling a wrist shot under the crossbar for his third goal of the night, 18th of the season and the Jackets' fifth of the game.
Video: CBJ@CGY: Dubois notches hat trick, sets club record
"When you score a hat trick, it's fun, but I didn't really think about it," said Dubois, who posed with the three pucks he'd shot into the net after the game. "Maybe if you play 50 years, you'll get one, or something like that, but if you just play and one night you're on fire, one night everything's going in, maybe then you'll get one - but it's not something that I really think about. I just want to win and help the team play well."
If you ever wonder why some are so bullish about the Blue Jackets' present and future, go back and watch this play a few times. See it for all the intricate little parts that stacked up to become one impressive goal. Take note of the ages involved in it: Nutivaara, 23; Bjorkstrand, 22; Milano, 21; Dubois, 19.
This is how you build a powerhouse team the NHL now, by finding talent like them - at the ages they are - and mixing them into a roster brimming with other young talents, veteran savvy and the kind of goaltending that should make other front offices drool.
That was only one play within one game at the end of a season in which the Blue Jackets have transformed from a team without an identity to one that knows which direction they're headed, all together as one imposing bunch.
Dubois had the hat trick, his 16th, 17th and 18th goals, which moved him past Rick Nash's 17 goals in 2003-03 for the franchise record by a rookie, but number of other Blue Jackets contributed too.
Markus Hannikainen popped one in for a fourth line that was a force most of the game. Nutivaara scored his seventh goal of the season and fourth in the past seven games. Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson each had two assists, with Atkinson extending his point streak to six games.
Eleven guys got on the scoresheet with at least a point and Sergei Bobrovsky made 37 saves in net, including several huge ones in the first two periods.
It was a special night for Dubois, but it was another big victory for a team that has its sights set squarely on one thing - clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here's what we learned:
I: WHAT IT MEANS
The Blue Jackets began Thursday in the first Eastern Conference wild card again, thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers winning Wednesday to climb back over Columbus into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Jackets hopped back over the Flyers with the victory, by one point, and have four games left in the regular season.
Columbus, which has 93 points, is one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for second in the Metro and six back of the division-leading Washington Capitals. The Blue Jackets are a point ahead of Philadelphia (92), four in front of the New Jersey Devils (89) and seven ahead of the Florida Panthers, who are one spot behind the Devils for the East's second wild card.
The Penguins defeated the Devils, 4-3, in overtime Thursday night and Florida lost, 3-2, in overtime against the Ottawa Senators.
II: EARLY START KEY
The Blue Jackets didn't just avoid showing up for work late, they made sure to get on the scoreboard bright and early.
Hannikainen's goal was just 2:09 into the game, off a great feed by Matt Calvert, and Dubois made it 2-0 at 12:23 with his first goal of the game.
Video: CBJ@CGY: Hannikainen bangs home Calvert's nice pass
Calgary played without a number of its key players due to injuries and a family situation for Johnny Gaudreau, so coach Glen Gulutzan wanted the Flames would to play a tight-checking, low-scoring game.
The Blue Jackets' early goals squashed those plans, forcing the Flames to open things up and play a looser game, which led to a lot of Calgary shots - especially in the second period - but not goals.
Dubois' second goal gave the Blue Jackets a 3-0 lead 3:55 into the second and put Calgary even further into a hole Gulutzan hoped to avoid.
III: ANOTHER 'BOB' BEAUTY
Bobrovsky stayed off the ice for practice Wednesday, working off ice instead. He got back on the ice for the Blue Jackets' optional morning skate and then had one of his best performances in his 63rd start of the season.
Video: CBJ@CGY: Bobrovsky turns away Bennett from the slot
Starting this game tied Bobrovsky's career-high, which he set last season while going 41-17-5 with seven shutouts, a 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage to win his second Vezina Trophy.
Bobrovsky is now 36-22-5 and entered this game with a 2.38 GAA and .921 save percentage. Since going 1-6-1 in eight games between Jan. 11 and Feb. 9, Bobrovsky has returned to form in a big way - going 14-4-1 in that span.
He was brilliant against the Flames, too, making a great diving stop in the first period and then a big glove save less than a minute into the second period, when the Blue Jackets still led 2-0.
IV: THE 'A' IS FOR ASSIST?
This was the second game for Panarin wearing an 'A' on his jersey as an alternate captain, which Tortorella opted to award him while captain Nick Foligno is out with a lower-body injury.
It stands for 'Alternate Captain,' but the way Panarin keeps dishing out assists, it could double for that too. Panarin had two more helpers, on both of Dubois' goals, and now has 47 for the season.
That ties his career-high, set as a rookie in 2015-16 with the Chicago Blackhawks, and moves him past teammate Alexander Wennberg (46) for third in franchise history in a single season.
Panarin is one assist from tying David Vyborny (2006-07) and Andrew Cassels for second (2002-03) and five from tying Ray Whitney's 52 in 2002-03 for the most.
V: 'TORTS' SETS THE MARK
The past two wins for the Blue Jackets pulled Tortorella even for the most coaching wins in franchise history with former coach Todd Richards and then set him apart.
Tortorella, who's in his third season with Columbus, is 128-86-21, which puts him one win ahead of Richards, who coached the Jackets in five seasons. Tortorella is the Blue Jackets' ninth coach, which is a list that also includes Dave King, former general manager Doug MacLean, Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant and Ken Hitchcock, who has the third-most coaching wins (820) in NHL history.
"I have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work with a pretty good team and good people around me," Tortorella said. "I'm not interested in the numbers. I'm just interested in trying to keep on growing with this team and trying to find our way, as we're looking here with a few games left, to try to find our way."
VI: WHAT A MONTH
The Blue Jackets have one more game in March, which they'll play Saturday in Vancouver.
They've gone 12-3-0 alreadty this month, including a season-high 10-game winning streak (Mar. 4-22) that tied the second-longest in team history. That's not all they did in March.
Columbus also set a new franchise high for goals in a single month (59), which the Blue Jackets set last season with 56 in December. Panarin now has 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in March.
He has 73 points (26 goals, 47 assists) and has four games left to match or pass his career-high of 77, which he set in 80 games as a rookie in 2015-16.
VII: ANOTHER ROAD 'HATTY'
Dubois' goal at 15:23 of the third period wasn't just a special moment for him. It was also a team accomplishment.
The Blue Jackets have had four three-goal performances, which ties their franchise record for one season. Columbus had that many in 2002-03 and 2011-12, as well.
It was also the Jackets' second road game in a row with a hat trick and fourth "hatty' in their past five road games. Cam Atkinson started the run Mar. 15 in Philadelphia, Panarin added one Mar. 20 against the Rangers and Thomas Vanek had one Tuesday in Edmonton.
Dubois is a fan of hockey video games, which he liked to played while growing up. He was asked how many hat tricks he'd scored in those games and smiled.
"A lot in video games," he said, "and I'd put it in 'Rookie' [mode], so I could score a couple goals … but it feels even better to get it in real life."
"Yeah, he's fine, I guess. We'll take him. It's not my choice, but …" - Werenski, smiling, as Dubois walked past in the locker room after the game.
"What's going to happen now? Is he ever going to shoot again? That's the first thing I think of. It's a great play, but now, is he ever going to shoot again? So, write that please, would ya … please? It's a great play, but I start thinking right away, 'Now it's going to take me two more weeks here to get him to shoot a puck again.'" - Tortorella on Thomas Vanek's cross-ice pass to set up Nutivaara's goal in the third.
IX: PIPELINE PRODIGY
Panarin and Bobrovsky aren't the only Russian-born players in the Blue Jackets organization who've stood out this season.
Vitaly Abramov, a dynamic forward prospect, also had a great season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, playing for both the Gatineau Olympiques and Victoriaville Tigres, who acquired him in a mid-season trade.
Abramov, the QMJHL's MVP last season, was nominated by the league for that same honor Thursday. Abramov finished the regular season with 104 (55 goals, 59 assists) points in 56 games, after posting 104 points on 46 goals and 58 assists last season.
Should Abramov win the MVP this season, he will be the first player to win the award in back-to-back seasons since Sidney Crosby in 2004 and 2005.
X: NEXT UP
The Blue Jackets have a practice scheduled for Friday in beautiful Vancouver and will play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday at Rogers Arena (4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM).
That game will conclude the Jackets' three-game road trip and they will return home with three games remaining, including the next two at home against the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.