The Columbus Blue Jackets found a way to battle back twice against one of the hottest teams in the NHL in the Anaheim Ducks to win in a shootout.
The Ducks, who were 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and the NHL’s best penalty killers with an 89.0 percent success rate (and an even more impressive 89.4 percent on the road) made the Blue Jackets work for the two points, and ended up earning a point themselves. But for the Blue Jackets, who have spent the entire season in the NHL’s basement, this win was another step in the right direction.
“I thought it was one of our best games for 60 minutes,” Columbus head coach John Tortorella said. “For the full 60 minutes, I thought we were in control. We had some lapses, but we didn’t beat ourselves. That was encouraging—that was probably one of the better games we have played since I’ve been here.”
A big component of that success was captain Nick Foligno’s breakthrough performance, as he had two assists tonight. It was his first multi-point performance since Dec. 29, and he was rewarded with significantly more ice time (20:52) than he had in the last few games. Foligno said that he has been frustrated with his play lately because he did not want to disappoint his teammates.
“That’s something I pride myself on, and this is a group of guys I want to be a difference-maker for and a guy that leads them by playing the right way,” Foligno said. “Anytime you’re not reaching that potential, it’s disappointing from my end and I’m the only one to blame. It’s nice to come out with a win, play the right way and feel good about it and move forward. … They were all supportive, and it was nice to see everybody jump on board and play that game tonight.”
When the Blue Jackets found themselves about to head into the first intermission down 2-0, thanks to a Ducks goal scored with 12 seconds left in the period, Foligno and his line took it upon themselves to make sure that didn’t happen. He fed the puck over to former Duck forward William Karlsson to put his team down just one goal with :05 to play in the first frame.
Foligno said he was “pissed off” when the team went down 2-0 and took it upon himself to be a difference maker. He also said he was proud of the way the team showed resiliency and did not give up when faced with adversity.
“In previous games, we might have had a different outcome because of our mentality,” Foligno said. “Tonight, we were all guys on deck and I loved it. It says a lot about our team right now. You can see us start to turn, with our approach to every game and our mentality. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s a real good step in the right direction when you get a big win like that, coming from behind at home. It’s great for the room. We have to go and harness that and remind ourselves of that and make sure we have that same intensity and same focus every time we step on the ice.”
Lately, it has been Blue Jackets rookie goaltender Joonas Korpisalo’s duty to bail his team out to help the Jackets earn points in nine of the last 12 games, and a 5-1-2 record in their last eight games. However, Korpisalo had a light first two periods, facing 16 shots in 40 minutes. That was a huge deviation from the last seven games, where he faced an average of 35.4 shots per night–and posed a big mental challenge for him.
“It makes my work harder because you have to wait and prepare your mind and body for the next shot,” Korpisalo said. “I was standing there for…I think I counted eight minutes between shots in the second period. You have to be ready for that. It can’t be an excuse.”
With three of the last four games going beyond regulation, Korpisalo said the pressure has not fazed him at all.
“I played a lot of overtimes in Lake Erie before I got here, so that helped a lot,” Korpisalo said. “I like it because you can be the hero and make the really big saves and it’s really fun in the north-south game with the 3-on-3.”
A fun (and somewhat surprising) moment that happened before tonight’s game was defenseman Ryan Murray signing a two-year contract extension. After the contest, he said that it was nice to finally have his impending restricted free agency status off his mind.
“It’s great to get it out of the way,” Murray said. “You just want to play hockey, that’s what it comes down to. That’s the honest truth. You just want to go out there and play. Obviously, that hangs in the back of your mind during the season and you can’t get it out, but you try and not think of it as much as you can and play. Now that it’s out of the way, it’s easier to do just that.”
It was a big step for Murray and the Blue Jackets, after the defender missed extended periods of time over the previous few seasons due to various injuries. Tortorella said he can tell how much of a difference consistency has made in Murray’s development over the course of the season.
“The first couple of weeks when I got here, I thought he struggled,” Tortorella said. “I had heard so much about him, I was wondering [why] I wasn’t seeing the same stuff. Then I did some research. The amount of games that he’s missed for that position, as a defenseman, as a young player, it’s crucial. It’s hard to climb out of that. But where he has brought his game from his first two or three weeks to where he is now, you can see his confidence. He’s not chasing the game. Right now, it’s just coming to him. He may be in better shape because he’s playing the minutes he’s playing. Just getting through all those injuries and the lack of play, that’s tough in that position. I’m really excited that he is signed. He’s a huge part of our back end as we move forward.”
Murray and the Blue Jackets will look to further build upon their confidence when they face the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.