The Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t get off to the start they wanted, had a key forward ejected in the first period, but—in the end none of that mattered. Columbus was seemingly an unstoppable force on Thursday night, remaining composed and completing an impressive come-from-behind victory in overtime to defeat the Washington Capitals and take the lead in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.
It seemed the CBJ were on their way to escaping the first period unscathed, killing off two power plays for the Caps in the first 16 minutes of action.
That wasn’t the case…
Forward Josh Anderson was ejected for a major boarding penalty at the 17:23 mark and Evgeny Kuznetsov made Columbus pay, scoring two power-play goals in the final three minutes of the opening period to give Washington a 2-0 leading heading into the first intermission.
Pause for a moment…
CBJ fans have felt this before: Excitement before a playoff series, until reality hits, and things don’t go the way everybody hoped.
Well I’ve got news for ya, this team might just put all those disappointing memories to rest…They just might.
Now back to last night’s game…
That’s a dangerous team (The Capitals). You know, they can…make you pay, especially when…you get on the penalty kill and they get on the power play.
That’s some of what Team Captain Nick Foligno had to say about the opponent getting an early 2-0 lead.
Youngster Pierre-Luc Dubois (he’s only 19-years old and had two assists in the contest) described his team’s lack of discipline and being on the PK for most of the first period with this:
It’s not ideal.
Correct young sir, the start to the hockey game was anything but ideal.
However, Head Coach John Tortorella & Co. didn’t get too worked up about the rough start and continued to look forward to the next 40 minutes:
There was plenty of game left…We just knew we just had to stay with it…We took too many penalties…Although we gave up two (power-play goals)…I thought we killed penalties very well tonight. We’re just doing it too often.
Foligno seemed to be anything but intimidated by the 2-0 deficit:
Guys have been down by three, so (Foligno then paused and chuckled briefly before finishing his thought) what was two goals really gonna do to us.
The Jackets killed off the remaining time from the Anderson penalty to start the second period, keeping things within a somewhat-comfortable reach. Then, at the 4:48 mark, Boone Jenner took the puck into the offensive zone and found a streaking Alexander Wennberg who beat Phillip Grubauer backdoor to cut into the deficit and make it a 2-1 hockey game.
Mark Letestu talked about the importance of not letting the score get out of hand in the second period and scoring first to cut the deficit to one:
It gets to three or four (goal deficit) I don’t know where the game goes…Getting that kill, getting the next goal, you know making it a one-goal game…Really changes the complexion of things. They get another one, make it three [to] nothing…You know three or four—It becomes really difficult to come back.
The score was 2-1 for the remainder of the 2nd period and it was Sergei Bobrovsky who stood tall, making multiple impressive saves to keep the deficit at one. Here’s what Bob had to say about his performance and mindset on the night:
Overall I felt comfortable…I had a good energy, and, I just worked.
Speaking of work, the Jackets still had some work left, coming into the final 20 minutes trailing 2-1.
It didn’t take long for the Jackets to get a golden opportunity to tie things up, as Tom Wilson delivered a dirty hit on Wennberg (who left for the remainder of the game) and was given a two-minute minor penalty for charging.
The Jackets found some power-play magic of their own, with Thomas Vanek scoring from one knee inside the the blue paint to tie the score 2-2 at the 1:31 mark.
However, the Caps would answer back. Devante Smith-Pelly beat Bobrovsky on a one-timer to put the home team up 3-2 at the 5:12 mark
So, Columbus had to find a way to overcome a one-goal deficit without Josh Anderson or Alexander Wennberg for the final 14 minutes and change.
Here’s how Torts described the situation late in the game and how his club handled it:
Quite honestly I think players enjoy that—It’s not a big deal to them when they lose players, they’re, they’re happy cause they can get on the ice quicker, and more often…There was no panic on the bench…I think guys played better when they get more minutes and they were certainly getting the minutes with some of the stuff going on with us tonight.
It was a boneheaded tripping penalty from Andre Burakovsky that gave the Jackets another power-play opportunity at the 14:55 mark.
Only 39 seconds later Columbus cashed in. Cam Atkinson saved the puck while on his knees from crossing the blue line, sending it to Dubois in the slot—Dubois then dropped the puck off to Seth Jones, who scored his first career playoff goal, tying the game 3-3.
It felt like the Jackets had a major aura of confidence, overcoming multiple deficits on the night en route to a dramatic overtime victory. Here’s a little bit of what Torts had to say about his team’s demeanor:
We were having a ball…There was no nervousness. They were having a ball…The way we scored the third goal…banging it around, keeping it in…Jonesie scores it…I don’t think you can equate experiences in the regular season right now in situations with these games.
Entering OT the score was tied at three apiece and Columbus had yet to take a lead in the game. That all changed when Artemi Panarin entered the offensive zone, eluding a Caps player and switching over to his forehand and burying a shot in the top-right corner of the net. The play was essentially a one-man show, and it gave Columbus the 4-3 victory in overtime.
Torts described what Panarin means to the team afterwards:
Big-game players (eluding to Panarin)…That’s important if you wanna find your way at, at this time of year in the high-stake games.
Foligno said “We’re a team that’s comfortable in this atmosphere” and his head coach likes the mentality of the Jackets as they move forward and prepare for Game 2:
I like where our team is…They’re very business-like but they’re not over the edge as far as being tense. They’re just playing…I’m thrilled that they get a chance to experience what they experienced tonight.
There’s still plenty of series left, but for now, CBJ fans can sit back and relax until Sunday night with a 1-0 lead over the Capitals.