James Wisniewski made it known in the locker room after a 2-1 victory that his resume made him a prime candidate to be selected in the shootout.
The Blue Jackets were locked in a back-and-forth game with the Vancouver Canucks that saw them take an early lead, give up a third-period goal and briefly lose their starting goaltender to injury, and with the game on the line, one of their emotional leaders stood at center ice with a chance to win – and Wisniewski came through.
Just like everyone drew it up, right?
Wisniewski’s teammates acknowledged he has some pretty good shootout moves that have been showcased in practice, but no one was really sure of the lineup until it was time to fill out the card following overtime. Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel joked that Wisniewski’s desire to participate was made loud and clear in recent weeks.
“He has informed us in the last three or four weeks about his record in the past, and that he has scored before with other teams,” Arniel said with a sly grin. “We’ve watched him in the shootout in practice, but you know what? It was a big goal – he backed it up.”
Wisniewski said he thought about winding up for a slap shot like Brian Rolston has done in the past, but he got a good look at successful attempts by Mark Letestu and Rick Nash who opted to shoot high over Roberto Luongo.
As he skated in, he tried to sell the shot and a subtle deke before sweeping back to forehand and tucking it inside the post, giving the Blue Jackets a much-deserved victory.
“I pulled it to my forehand and had a good six-to-eight inches on the far post to slide it in,” Wisniewski said.
“With that move, you can’t get it up because you’re pulling it behind his pad so you’re just hoping that his pad isn’t against the post. You’re all-in; you either get to slide it into the empty net or shove it in his pad.”
It was a big moment for Wisniewski and the Blue Jackets, who struggled in shootouts to start the year but have bounced back to win their last three – the first time they’ve done that since December 2010. Even more important was securing two points for Mason, Wisniewski said, because of the hard work he’s put in the past month trying to earn his way back into the lineup.
“We’re playing better as a team, and he just played huge for us,” Wisniewski said of Mason. “He made some fantastic saves and it was fun to play and to have him in there.
“I wanted to get him a big win – he deserves it and he’s been working so hard and being patient as (Curtis Sanford) has been playing great for us. For us to come in and play the game that we did, and him to stand on his head like that, it’s huge for us."
Goaltenders see a lot of shootout moves in practice, but given Wisniewski’s offensive instincts and his booming shot from the point, Mason thought his defenseman was going a different route.
“I’ve never seen him take anything like that,” Mason said. “I honestly thought he was going to do down and take a huge slap shot, but he pulled out some pretty cool tricks.
“When he had Luongo down, I didn’t think he had much room to stuff it in there, but man, that was a great feeling. I’m happy for him that he was able to come up big in a tough situation.”
Although he was in a position to score a shootout goal that would eventually win the hockey game, Wisniewski said the pressure wasn’t as high because two of his teammates scored before him. He liked the Blue Jackets chances whether it came down to him beating Luongo, or Mason coming up big one last time.
“I was kind of looking to see what his style was, but being third is easy because the first two guys scored and I had a good idea of what I wanted to do,” Wisniewski said. “I was either going to score to win, or Mase was making a save to win.
“That’s probably the best odds (for a shooter) – it was a bit looser than knowing you have to score."