Atkinson scores twice to lift Blue Jackets over Penguins
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Columbus’ Boone Jenner was sent to the penalty box for slashing just 20 seconds into Saturday night’s game, giving Pittsburgh an early power-play chance and sucking some of the energy out of a sold-out Nationwide Arena.
But the Blue Jackets killed the penalty, and Jenner emerged from the box and scored 11 seconds later to reset the tone of a game they desperately needed to win to stay in the crowded mix for a wildcard playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Cam Atkinson scored twice and Oliver Bjorkstand got the back-breaker in the third period as Columbus snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Penguins with a 4-1 victory Saturday night. The Blue Jackets had lost four of their last six and were shut out at Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
This one had all the energy of a playoff game.
Sergei Bobrovsky, who was a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh, was exceptional in recording 28 saves against the Penguins, who were 4-0-2 in their last six and started the day in third place in the Metropolitan Division.
“It just goes to show, if we play like that we’re a dangerous team,” Atkinson said. “All these points are so crucial. It’s good to see we can play like that because I’m sure everyone was wondering what was going on. But it can’t be a fluke, it can’t be a one-and-done so we have to continue.”
Zach Aston-Reese scored for Pittsburgh in the second period, and Matt Murray, starting his seventh straight game, had 29 saves.
“I thought he was terrific,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said of his durable net-minder. “I thought he made some 10-bell saves to keep us in the game. He gave us a chance.”
Holding onto a 1-0 lead early in the second period, the Blue Jackets got a break on a Pittsburgh power play when Phil Kessel went sprawling at his own blue line and Atkinson found himself with a loose puck and an open net. He snapped it in over Murray for his team-leading 37th goal of the season.
Pittsburgh pulled it back to a one-goal game at 6:39 of the second when Aston-Reese took Evgeni Malkin’s pass on the doorstep and beat Bobrovsky .
Bjorkstrand got the insurance goal with 3:01 left, tapping in a Ryan Dzingel pass, and Atkinson got his 38th of the season when he added an empty-netter at the 1:49 mark.
“We had some quality chances,” Sullivan said. “Five-on-five, there wasn’t a lot of room out there. The game had a playoff feel to it, it was physical, there wasn’t a lot of room. It was one of those games you have to fight for every inch of ice.”
Columbus coach John Tortorella’s post-game comments were measured.
“I’m excited for the guys,” he said. “I’m not going to get too amped up here. That’s a big win for us. If you go into these two games and you split against Pitt, I guess you leave happy. I’m sure (Sullivan) is saying the same thing with his group. The thing I’m happiest about is, I think we’re improving each game to try to get out of this.”
NOTES: Kessel played in 314th straight game for Pittsburgh, the second-longest streak in franchise history. Craig Adams holds the record with 319. … Anderson got his 100th career NHL point. … Atkinson has 12 career short-handed goal, two short of the franchise record. … Columbus last beat Pittsburgh in the regular season on Feb. 17, 2017 (2-1 in overtime). … Malkin has a nine-game points streak against the Blue Jackets. … Columbus is 27-5-2 this season when scoring the first goal.
Pittsburgh: At Boston on Sunday night.
Columbus: At New York Islanders on Monday night.