NASHVILLE – Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards might have had an idea as to what Marian Gaborik would add to his squad. On Thursday, those ideas became reality.
Wary of Gaborik's playmaking ability and speed, Richards noticed the Nashville Predators' defensemen allowing a bigger gap for his forwards, which provided for more space in the neutral zone. He also noticed the intangibles -- like confidence spreading among Gaborik's teammates.
The Gaborik Show, now an off-Broadway production, made a smashing debut on Thursday, as the three-time 40-goal scorer delivered the game-winning goal and an assist in a 3-1 win at Bridgestone Arena in his first game for Columbus.
"Having a guy that's a threat to score a goal at any minute -- and he scored a big goal for us in the third period," Richards said.
The Blue Jackets acquired Gaborik on Wednesday from the New York Rangers in exchange for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. The goal, as president of hockey operations John Davidson said, in the present and the future. It was one of a flurry of moves, as Columbus also acquired forward Blake Comeau and backup goalie Michael Leighton.
Gaborik skated mostly with former Rangers' teammates Artem Anisimov and Vinny Prospal, but he scored the game-winner while paired with another New York teammate, Brandon Dubinsky.
Dubinsky fed a backhand pass into the goalmouth and Gaborik outbattled big checking center Paul Gaustad to touch the puck first and nudge it past Pekka Rinne at 4:16 of the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
"Glad to have the first one under my belt and it was a great win so glad to be part of it," said Gaborik, who added that he was pleasantly surprised by the speed of his new team.
Gaborik's inability to flourish this season under Rangers coach John Tortorella was the subtext behind the deadline deal on Wednesday. Gaborik's new (and old) teammate Prospal played under Tortorella for the Tampa Bay Lightning (twice) and also in New York. Prospal is a big believer in Tortorella but had understood why the situation didn't work for Gaborik.
"Let's put it this way: That is the only way that coach Tortorella knows how to coach," Prospal said. "That's the way he has been ever since I got to know him in Year 2000. He's not going to change because of certain players. You either can play under or him or you can't and sometimes you just go different ways but he's a good teacher, he's a good coach and I know, particularly in my game, he helped me quite a bit…
"You just have to make it look like a fresh start, and [Gaborik] made it look really good for himself today."
The win was Columbus' first in regulation against its Central Division rival in this building since April 3, 2006, and moved the Blue Jackets one point ahead of Nashville in the Western Conference playoff scramble.
The game was Nashville's first since trading long-time right wing Martin Erat, who ranks second in numerous offensive career categories, and the Predators struggled to score. The only Nashville player to beat goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on Thursday was a defenseman, Kevin Klein.
"Everybody's got to step up," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We're going to need some offense. We're going to have to get dirty. If we got to kick ‘em in, we got to kick ‘em in -- legally. We're sort of in the final stretch here. We've got to find ways to get points. We've been here before in the past. We've lost three or four games late in the year where we were just fighting, trying to get in [the Stanley Cup Playoffs] and we put a string of games together and we got in. So, plain and simple, [we've] just got to worry about the next game and put our absolute best effort in."
Matt Calvert added an insurance goal with 9:10 remaining in regulation when his wrist shot fluttered off Rinne's blocker and into the net.
Columbus took advantage of a 4-on-3 situation to score the game's first goal. Chris Mueller and Mark Letestu were off for coincidental minors when Nashville's Shea Weber hooked Columbus' R.J. Umberger at 8:21 of the second period. Just 15 seconds later, James Wisniewski scored on a slap shot from the high slot. With a pass from the right circle, Dubinsky earned the primary assist; the secondary one went to Gaborik.
Nashville tied it with 7:46 left in the period. Bobrovsky, who finished with 38 saves was so dominant that the only way the Predators could get one past him was when he had no stick. During a goalmouth scramble, Nashville's Kevin Klein slid the puck past a stickless Bobrovsky for his third goal. Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand earned the assists.
Bobrovsky, entering the game with the League's second-best save percentage, was a major factor. Trotz thought if Nashville had capitalized on one of its 13 first-period shots – it didn't – that could have made a difference.
"Bob," Gaborik said, using the goalie's nickname, "was tremendous. Just making save after save so he kept us in there."
But ultimately the night belonged to one of the newest Blue Jackets. The auspicious start made Gaborik optimistic.
"We had some good looks, some good chances, created some rushes so it's going to be fine," he said. "I feel good about it."