How would Sergei Bobrovsky perform in his return from a groin injury? Would there be any rust on his game having not played in over a month?
Boy, did the reigning Vezina Trophy winner answer both questions emphatically tonight at Madison Square Garden.
Bobrovsky was razor sharp right from the get-go and made 15 saves in the first period to keep it a 1-1 headed into the dressing room, and the Blue Jackets did their part to create some separation in the second period. Columbus turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead after two periods thanks to a breakaway goal from Cam Atkinson (a great all-around play) and a late period tally from James Wisniewski off the rush, but as Wisniewski said post-game, the Blue Jackets knew the Rangers were preparing to make a big push.
And they started the third period with a flurry.
The Rangers were all around the Blue Jackets' net early in the final frame but Bobrovsky kept things clean through the first four minutes - then, one defensive zone breakdown let New York back in the game. Brian Boyle got lost in coverage in the slot, and he pounced on a loose puck to cut the lead to 3-2 at 4:53 of the third period.
Less than two minutes later, Rick Nash scored his second goal of the game on the power play to pull the Rangers back to all square. He sent a wrist shot from the middle point through heavy traffic and a Ryan Callahan screen, fooling Bobrovsky and tying the game at 6:55.
Full credit to the Blue Jackets after letting the two-goal lead slip away: they fought back and carried the play in the second half of the third period. They were unable to capitalize on a 1:10 power play in overtime, but two gorgeous shootout goals from Mark Letestu and Ryan Johansen (and two big saves by Bobrovsky) sealed the victory - their second in two tries at MSG this season.
The Rangers had all the momentum after scoring twice in 2:02 to tie the game, the building was thumping...it was right there for the home team. But the Blue Jackets got their collective selves together and took the game back in the final 10 minutes, and it went a long way toward getting the desired result.
1. BRANDON DUBINSKY (CBJ)
There's a strong case to be made for Bobrovsky to be up on this list, as well, but Dubinsky was excellent in all three zones for the Blue Jackets. He opened the scoring in the first period, made a great pass to Wisniewski for the 3-1 goal and was 71 percent in the face-off circle.
2. RICK NASH (NYR)
After a relatively quiet night in his first game against his former team, Nash was a star tonight and scored two big goals for the Rangers on the power play.
3. MARK LETESTU (CBJ)
Letestu played a solid two-way game for the Blue Jackets tonight, and scored a nifty goal in the shootout that stood up as the game-winner.
VS. CAROLINA HURRICANES
FRIDAY, 7 P.M.