Columbus Blue Jackets' Artem Anisimov, of Russia, celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets defeated the Panthers 6-3. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
The Russian Bear has awakened. From the city of Yaroslavl, nestled among the rolling hills of the Eastern European Plain to the progressive Midwestern city of Columbus, Artem Anisimov has come alive. In a 4-2 victory over the visiting Dallas Stars, he scored two goals, the latter of which ties his career-high for a season (18) with 20 games still to play.
In Columbus’ winning streak (3 games, currently longest in Eastern Conference), Anisimov has the new franchise record game-winning goal in each. He came back from the Olympic break and has scored five goals in four games. He’s been positively "en fuego" since his return from Sochi, Russia.
"Right now, he might be as good as we’ve seen in a Columbus uniform", said Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards. "Two huge goals for us, especially the last one with the way the game was going. He’s a trustworthy guy and you’re starting to see the skill that he has. I think the big thing for him is confidence."
His tenacity with and without the puck has made Anisimov the player that everyone has been waiting for. There have been glimpses of his scoring prowess, but it is all coming together for the playoff push.
"A lot of players go through these stretches where they feel good about their game and they’re starting to get the results from that", said Richards. "Obviously, what we would like to see is this continue from now until whenever our season is over with. Hopefully, that goes a long time."
Anisimov scored a power play goal in the first period, which eventually proved to be the game-winner, from in front of the net. He put an exclamation point on the evening with a backhand shot after coming around the net with less than five minutes to go in regulation.
"He’s just stepping up and making big plays", said RJ Umberger. "He’s confident right now and strong with the puck. He’s using the Olympics to his advantage. He got a lot of confidence from it. He hasn’t lost a step and is just flying from it. That’s big for us. We need big minutes and big plays from him."
Also hailing from Russia, although from the Cossack city of Novokuznetsk, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is standing tall in net for Columbus, giving them a chance to win every night. One season removed from his Vezina-winning performance, he’s quietly going about the business of, as he says, "stop the puck".
"You know, I try to focus on my job," Bobrovsky said, "just to stop the puck every night, nothing less and nothing more. There’s lots of things going on around me and I try to keep it simple and focus on my job."
In the last four games since the break, Bobrovsky has a goals-against average of 2.50, a save percentage of .909 and the accolades of his teammates. Although he’s been good between the pipes, Todd Richards doesn’t want the team to think that Bobrovsky will bail them out of a jam every night.
"I hope that’s not the case," Richards said, "that we’re going in thinking we’ve got to rely on Bob. He’s our last line of defense and it’s a great last line to have. But, as a young team going forward and playing with leads, a 3-nothing lead, that’s where you want to continue to go after teams."
"I would love for our guys to have the attitude that if we’re up 5-nothing in the third, let’s score the next goal. That’s what I want. I want us to continue to attack, always doing the right things and doing it the right way."
With the win, Columbus has moved past Detroit for 8th place in the East (wildcard) and 4th in the Metro, tied with the Rangers at 69 points. New York has won one more game than the Blue Jackets. The push is on to finish as high within the division as possible and make the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
"Our goal is the playoffs", said goalie Bobrovsky. "That’s our main goal for right now. And we’re going to fight for it."
Although all bets are off once the playoffs start, Columbus would really like to finish in the 2nd or 3rd position within the division to give them their best chance of moving past the first round. They are merely one point behind Philadelphia, who hold 2nd place, for the time being.
The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. today and then the mad dash for the post-season resumes its wild ride. With twenty games remaining in the regular season for the boys in Union Blue, They do not want to repeat what happened to them last year. Strap yourselves in and hold on tight, for this will surely be an exciting ride.