They didn’t have Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Blue Jackets did have Joonas Korpisalo in their 7-3 romp against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.
They didn’t have Artemi Panarin, either, but they did have Zac Dalpe – who was recalled from the Cleveland Monsters earlier in the day along with goalie Jean-Francois Berube, after it was decided Panarin and Bobrovsky were too sick to play.
The Blue Jackets didn’t have Riley Nash, either, but Lukas Sedlak was healthy enough to play and filled in nicely in the middle of the fourth line on a night when Columbus leaned on depth and replacement players against one of the NHL’s hottest teams.
“I think every guy put everything out on the ice,” said Korpisalo, who made 40 saves. “That was a team effort, so I’m proud of the guys. Those are our top guys (out sick) and I think it brings our group together a little bit. We have Zac Dalpe over there and he played a great game. Sedzy came in and played a great game. Everybody was ready to play and it was awesome.”
It was definitely eye-opening, especially after the Panthers raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first 6:45 of the game and dominated the first period.
Three Columbus goals in the second and four more in the third turned this game upside down and the Blue Jackets did it the hard way – somehow dominating a team with a five-game winning streak despite missing multiple key players.
“I thought we came out with a checking mindset in the second period,” said assistant coach Brad Shaw, who handled the postgame press conference because head coach John Tortorella’s also sick. “It usually is a good thing to go through. Adversity’s good, especially when you come out on the good end of result.”
Here are five takeaways from the Blue Jackets’ second straight win, second win against the Panthers this season and sixth straight game with a point:
1. Depth dive
A year ago, the Blue Jackets were scrounging around for goals behind couch cushions and looking under furniture in the player’s lounge.
Now, the goals are coming left and right for a team that’s used a balanced attack to put up 24 points in its first 19 games to sit first in the Metropolitan Division standings. They’ve scored 65 goals thus far, an average of 3.42 per game, and they’re being scored by players all over the lineup.
Five guys finished with a goal and assist in this game against the Panthers, with Alexander Wennberg setting up two of them to become the sixth Blue Jackets player with a two-point night.
Columbus got goals from all four forward lines and their leading goal-scorers – Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois with nine, Anthony Duclair and Josh Anderson with eight – all beat Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who had a blistering .956 save percentage.
“I feel like every line contributed and everyone can score,” said Wennberg, who has a goal and 10 assists. “It doesn’t matter who you put on the ice. I think that just shows the team right now. We’ve got a lot of young guys, we have the depth right now, so if you get out there, anyone can score.”
2. Down with the sickness
Cam Atkinson has recovered from whatever is spreading through the Blue Jackets’ locker room, but Panarin, Bobrovsky and Nash were all wiped out by illness Thursday.
Tortorella wasn’t feeling good, either, so it will be interesting to see how many more Blue Jackets come down with it – if any – and how long they can continue winning with key pieces of the lineup out sick.
There is a practice scheduled for noon Friday in Columbus, before the team flies to Carolina for its next game Saturday against the Hurricanes. Attendance will be closely monitored to see which Jackets might be ill next.
3. Korpi goes Neo
It was like watching one of those super slo-motion scenes in the film, “The Matrix,” when the main character, Neo, narrowly dodges bullets by feel more than sight.
The only difference for Korpisalo about eight minutes into the second period was that he was deflecting pucks rather than dodging them. They came in rapid-fire succession during a great shift by the Panthers’ fourth line.
According to the official NHL play-by-play sheet, Korpisalo stopped five straight shots in a span of 25 seconds, denying Colton Sceviour three times and Troy Brouwer twice to preserve a 3-2 lead.
“I had no idea where the puck was, but that was fun,” Korpisalo said, smiling. “I think that was fun, scrambling all over and battling.”
Blue Jackets fans gave him a loud ovation after he finally made a save and covered the puck.
“It was a little hairy,” Shaw said. “Some of them weren’t the prettiest saves, but he found a way to keep it out of the net, and I thought it was great how the crowd responded. You don’t often see a standing ‘O’ in the middle of the second period for a goalie, but he merited it.”
4. Slapper from the blue
It was a night filled with role players stepping up into starring roles, from Brandon Dubinsky’s game-tying goal in the second to Korpisalo’s bevy of saves to Duclair going from “almost the dog house,” with Tortorella to playing 15 strong minutes with a goal and assist.
Markus Hannikainen had his moment in the spotlight too, scoring the winning goal in the third period off a 3-on-2 rush – his first goal of the season. It broke up a 3-3 tie at 4:01 when he spun and whacked the puck past Luongo from the front of the crease.
“You don’t see too many slap shots from the top of the blue paint there, but he somehow got one off and sort of powered it right through him,” Shaw said. “It ends up being the winning goal and it’s great for him, because there’s nobody that works harder. He’s been really patient when he’s been out of the lineup. He’s been a good soldier and the whole bench was smiling when he put that one in.”
5. The big shorty
The building was practically silent after the first period, which was dominated by the Panthers.
It took exactly 28 seconds for that to change on Atkinson’s goal, which was sparked by Wennberg stealing the puck at the Columbus blue line and skating it into an odd-man break.
His hesitation pass to the left wing was on the money and Atkinson buried his shot off it for the Jackets’ first goal, cutting Florida’s lead to 2-1 with a shorthanded goal. That was the turning point that sparked six more goals to come for Columbus – two more in the second and four in the third.
“You’re not really saying, ‘Let’s go out and score a goal shorthanded,’” Wennberg said. “The goal is to kill off the penalty, but there’s different ways to do it. I mean, right now I’m finding some chemistry with Cam on the PK. We’re reading off each other and making plays, so we stayed aggressive and found a 2-on-1. It’s nice to score a goal right there.”