The Blue Jackets needed a pick-me-up, something to jolt them out of a four-game rut and get things steered in the right direction. Curtis McElhinney stepped up in a tough spot and delivered.
Having not played an NHL game since Dec. 31, 2011 as a member of the Coyotes (a mere 659 days ago), McElhinney admitted he had some serious nerves going before tonight's game against the Canucks - a team he saw quite frequently during his days in Calgary. Columbus needed a big performance from him after a fruitless three-game road trip, and he was outstanding and especially so in the third period.
Vancouver pumped 13 shots at McElhinney in the opening period and put him to the test, but he made all 13 saves and kept the Jackets ahead at intermission on Marian Gaborik's third goal of the year. That goal came on the Blue Jackets' first shot of the game, and it was some crafty hand-eye work by Gaborik in front of the net to re-direct a shot by Artem Anisimov through the arm of Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack.
But the Canucks, who played the day before (as did the Blue Jackets) in Pittsburgh, kept at it and eventually made a game of it in the second period.
A somewhat-controversial power play goal by Henrik Sedin tied things up at 10:42 of the middle frame, jamming in a supposedly loose puck in McElhinney's crease. Ryan Kesler made it happen by backhanding the puck into traffic, and Sedin was able to find it and deposit his second goal of the year. The fans in the building didn't like the call nor did the Blue Jackets, but they forged ahead and got a timely goal from a guy who sorely needed one.
RJ Umberger was the recipient of a deft dish from Ryan Johansen just inside the Canucks blue line, and in one swift motion, Umberger fired the puck through Lack's pads and gave the Jackets a 2-1 lead with 8:46 to play. The building was electric, the Blue Jackets followed suit, and they closed the deal on Johansen's empty-netter at 19:33.
Obviously, the difference in tonight's game was Umberger's tally - but in more ways than one. Todd Richards said he could see a weight lifted off his veteran forward's shoulders when the puck entered the net, and it was equally timely for the Blue Jackets, who hadn't yet been rewarded for a strong third period. Honorable mention goes to McElhinney, who made a fantastic right-pad save on Chris Higgins with less than a minute left, preserving the lead.
1. CURTIS MCELHINNEY (CBJ)
A deserved No. 1 star honor for the guy who raised his game when his team needed it. McElhinney was sharp from the get-go and made the timely stops when called upon, and that save on Higgins late in the proceedings stands out among many highlights for him. He made 37 saves altogether and was the streak stopper tonight.
2. RJ UMBERGER (CBJ)
Boy, did anyone need their first goal of the year more than this guy? Umberger has had a ton of chances in the last few games but hadn't cashed in until tonight, and it stood up as the game-winner. He was a big part of the shutdown line with Comeau and Johansen, who held the Sedin twins to one point (none at even strength) and a combined -3.
3. RYAN JOHANSEN (CBJ)
His game had another gear tonight, especially so in the third period, and his multi-point effort (goal, assist) catalyzed the turning point of the game with less than nine minutes to play. Johansen logged 19:21, was +2 and won exactly 50 percent of his face-offs tonight.
WHAT'S ON TAP?
VS. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
TUESDAY, 7 P.M.
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