It’s claimed you should always make sure to leave your mark on the scoresheet in any way you can; the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Ryan Johansen has evidently taken that advice seriously.
In just 5:30 of play in the first period, he drew a pair of penalties and had a fight – he also played a little hockey in between, creating several open scoring chances for teammates.
And in the final frame, he got his name on the section of the box score that matters most: He scored the winning goal in a 3-2 defeat of the Montreal Canadiens.
After Montreal’s Lars Eller lost the puck on a foray into the offensive zone, it came to the Habs’ Jarred Tinordi in the neutral zone, but his cross-ice pass was telegraphed, and Johansen knocked the puck out of the air and it set sail for the Montreal net.
Bustling though Tinordi’s stick-check, he slammed on the brakes to elude the pursuing Mike Weaver and slipped a dainty shot into the corner of the net past Carey Price.
With the goal, his 27th, Johansen took the goal-scoring lead among NHL players aged 21 and younger – he also logged seven shots and destroyed all comers in the faceoff circle, winning 18 of 22 draws.
Afterward he said the winning goal, and the game as a whole, were a good illustration of what the Jackets are all about.
“We’re a team that just keeps coming, we’re a bunch of little rats, in your face the whole game ... I’m really happy with the way our guys played tonight and the way we’ve been playing as of late,” he said.
The way they’ve been playing as of late is like a playoff team, and one that has the potential to be a stone in a higher-seeded team’s shoe.
Columbus entered play on Thursday level on points with Washington and in the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, just one slender point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings – who beat Pittsburgh in overtime.
Ominously for the New York Rangers, who provide the Blue Jackets’ opposition on Friday, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus has games in hand – the Leafs, who currently sit fifth in the Eastern conference, have just a two-point cushion.
The setback snapped Montreal’s three-game winning streak, it was Price’s first defeat since Feb. 2.
The Team Canada stopper made 37 saves on 40 shots, his counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 stops on 26 Montreal shots.
“That was a fast-paced team,” Price said with typical understatement.
Columbus went 0-for-8 on the power-play, which isn’t optimal if you like to win games in the NHL, but overcame that futility.
Coming in, the Jackets had won 18 of their last 27 games – since Jan. 1, they’ve been the fifth-best team in the NHL.
From the opening faceoff, former Hab James Wisniewski sent a perfect pass to spring winger Cam Atkinson for a breakaway opportunity – Price calmly dealt with it, deflecting the shot to the corner.
Montreal opened the scoring on the power-play at 14:53 of the first period, Brendan Gallagher batted a rebound of Alex Galchenyuk’s shot out of the air, it bobbled off a defender and Bobrovsky into the net.
A minute later, Johansen was in the penalty box for the second time in the period – it was a busy frame for him: a boarding penalty, a cross-checking penalty, a fight with Max Pacioretty and a couple of gorgeous scoring chances, including one where he fired over the net from point-blank range.
“I was a little frustrated with a bad penalty I took there, I guess,” he said.
In the event, the Jackets were able to concoct a goal from a set play after the Habs iced the puck.
Mark Letestu shot directly from the faceoff past an unsuspecting David Desharnais; Price caught a piece with his trapper, but the puck dropped kindly for a fast-charging Derek MacKenzie, who jabbed it past a diving P.K. Subban.
Columbus coach Todd Richards said it wasn’t so much a set play as a clever bit of improvisation – Letestu had turned his bottom hand over as if to suggest he would be drawing the puck back.
Instead, he used the element of surprise to very nearly score. “If MacKenzie hesitates for even a second, that probably doesn’t go in,” Richards said.
In the second period, Brandon Dubinsky doubled the Columbus lead when he swiped a puck past Price from the doorstep – Nick Foligno had aided his mission by delivering a couple of meaty cross-checks to Subban and Desharnais as they tried to protect Price’s crease.
With the visitors leading 2-1 in the third period, Subban took a high-sticking penalty on Matt Calvert behind the Montreal net, then with eight seconds left in his penalty, Tomas Plekanec swung his stick carelessly as Dubinsky flew by and was given a double-minor when it found the latter’s mouth.
But the best scoring chance on that power-play may well have fallen to the Habs’ Lars Eller, who was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway by the Jackets’ Nikita Nikitin.
Bobrovsky was able to make an armpit save to thwart the Dane; the Habs would kill off a brief five-on-three (the second time in the game they had done that).
The trade deadline acquisition of Thomas Vanek has given the Montreal forward corps a new complexion, and the Jackets got a good look at it just before the midpoint of the final frame.
As Subban made a nifty play to hold the puck in the Columbus end and dish to Pacioretty, Vanek was posted just above the faceoff dot across the ice with his stick in the air.
Pacioretty spotted it, and zipped a perfect feed that was swiftly in the back of the net – his fourth goal in two games.
On another night, against another team, it might have been enough to spur the Habs to a win.
“It was a very even game, right down to the last second, it could have gone either way,” Eller said.