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Blue Jackets' special teams too much for Panthers

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets know all too well how a well-timed shorthanded goal can change the complexion of a game.

In their first game out of the Olympic break, a loss Thursday at the New Jersey Devils, the Blue Jackets cut a three-goal deficit to one only to give up a shorthanded goal with 19 seconds left in the second period. Columbus never recovered and lost its third straight.

"That really knocked us back," Columbus forward Nick Foligno said. "That was an emphasis Friday and today as well, making sure we did a good job in those areas. That's going to win games for us down the stretch."

Saturday afternoon, the Blue Jackets destroyed the momentum of an opponent and defeated the Florida Panthers 6-3 at Nationwide Arena.

The Panthers had allowed three power-play goals and had been badly outshot, yet had a chance to take a 4-3 lead late in the second period when Columbus center Derek MacKenzie was called for high-sticking.

Instead, Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov's unassisted shorthanded goal with 10 seconds left in the period put Columbus ahead to stay.

"When we go the locker room, [it] was huge momentum for us," Anisimov said. "Every goal you score in the last minute is huge for the team."

Foligno earned his 200th career point by hitting the empty net with 61 seconds left in regulation, and Matt Calvert added another empty-netter 36 seconds later, but Florida (22-31-7) lost a fourth straight game in large part because Columbus (30-25-5) scored on its first three power plays.

"Special teams stink," Florida coach Peter Horachek said. "Those guys aren't taking responsibility for the penalty-killing. It was not very good.

"There's got to be more desperate play. There's got to be some approach to the game that has more fortitude to it. We were relaxed, sloppy."

RJ Umberger, Cam Atkinson and David Savard helped the Blue Jackets build leads of 2-0 and 3-1. The Panthers got goals from Shawn Matthias, Nick Bjugstad and Sean Bergenheim only to see Anisimov score the go-ahead goal.

He pestered the Panthers while MacKenzie served a high-sticking penalty and stole the puck from Florida center Jonathan Huberdeau along the right wall. Anisimov, one of four Blue Jackets to play for Russia in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, carried the puck to the slot, deked Panthers defenseman Tom Gilbert, then roofed a backhander past Scott Clemmensen for his 15th goal, second shorthanded, this season

"That got the energy back," Columbus coach Todd Richards said.

Clemmensen made 31 saves. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 17 shots and improved to 13-4-1 in his past 18 starts. He lost 5-2 to the Devils on Thursday.

Columbus is 6-2-0 at home vs. Florida and leads the series 10-4-0 with seven straight wins, including a 4-1 victory on Feb. 1 in the last home game in Nationwide Arena before a 19-day Olympic break.

Florida has come off its long layoff with problems on the penalty kill. It allowed goals in five straight opportunities over two games before denying the Blue Jackets' final man-up attempt in the third period.

The Columbus power play had been spotty. In the previous nine games it had scored five times but given up four shorthanded goals. That changed against the Panthers when the Blue Jackets got goals from Umberger at 7:42 and Atkinson at 11:04 before Matthias got one back at even strength at 13:50.

"We were more intense," Richards said of the power play. "We shot the puck. There was a purpose in shooting it. Our identity and how we score goals on the power play is pretty simple. It's get the puck to the net, find ways to get it to the net, and having traffic for deflections or rebounds."

Columbus dominated early in the second period but could not increase a 2-1 lead before Bjugstad took the puck off the stick of Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray and beat Bobrovsky with a backhand for his 14th goal at 6:54 to make the score 2-2.

Savard put the Blue Jackets back in front four minutes later with his own backhand move for the defenseman's fourth goal as Erik Gudbranson sat in the box for cross-checking Foligno.

Falling behind is nothing new for the Panthers, who trailed the Washington Capitals 4-2 Thursday but tied the score in the third period before losing 5-4.

"It's not the first time we've done this," forward Brad Boyes said. "We do it over and over again."

The Blue Jackets' lead lasted all of 40 seconds before Bergenheim got his stick on a drive by Gilbert and redirected into the goal for his 14th. The shots at that point favored Columbus 23-8.

"You have to be saying we're pretty fortunate because we haven't been playing a complete game to this point and it's 3-3, let's take advantage of it," Horachek said.

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