Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) celebrates his goal against Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) and goalie Steve Mason (35) during the third period at Wells Fargo Center.
After what was perhaps the biggest game of the season for the Blue Jackets, they only had the plane ride back to Port Columbus to savor it. But, what a huge victory it was in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Blue Jackets were 0-5-1 all-time in Philadelphia before last night’s game, the only NHL city in which they had not won a game. That was crossed off the "to-do" list, as they shutout the Flyers 2-0 in front of 19,981 at the Wells Fargo Center.
"It’s a great win," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards after the game. "It’s a credit to the guys and how we played. The game got away from us a little bit in the second period. Bob (Bobrovsky) played great all game, but that period was big."
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 37 saves on the way to his fourth shutout of the season and eighth of his career, all of which have come since he donned the union blue. He made timely saves as well as having the guys in front of him doing their part to secure the win pulling them within two points of the third place Flyers in the Metro Division.
"It’s great for him," Richards said. "You want to see good players, good guys, do well. You pull for them. And Bob is that guy. Everyone sees how he plays out on the ice."
Richards expanded on Bobrovsky, "It’s always about the team. It’s never about him. To come into this building in a really big hockey game, come in and shut these guys out, says a lot about Bob. You can ask everybody in that room. Everybody is really happy for him."
The momentum shifted halfway through the second period, as Columbus killed off the last of the Flyers four power plays. As the period wore on, the Blue Jackets capitalized on the Flyers frustration, culminating in a James Wisniewski power play goal at 17:07.
Taking a 1-0 lead into the third stanza had many wondering if that lead would be squandered, as the 3-0 Columbus lead was last December. The Flyers came back to win that game 5-4. Such was not the case last night.
In the third, they kept their foot on the pedal and applied more pressure. Their passing became crisper as they sought to extend their lead on the Flyers. This led to Brandon Dubinsky deflecting a Cam Atkinson slap shot past former Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason at 3:20 in the third.
"We’ve had a few games recently where we’ve sat back on our heels a little bit," said Brandon Dubinsky, "and given up some leads. I like the way that we kept going after it and kept fore-checking. Our ‘D’ did a hell of job in the defensive zone. They made it a lot easier for us."
The win, and the two points that the Jackets earned, changes the dynamic in the tight Metro. Unlike last year where they were chasing just to try and make it into the playoffs, the Jackets are currently in the second wild-card spot in the conference and are chasing third place in the division. With a win tonight against the visiting Blackhawks, Columbus would still be in fourth place in the Metro, but even on points with Philadelphia.
"Our eyes have to stay on the prize," continued Dubinsky. "We’ve got Chicago (next) and we have to prepare for that. We’re in a good position. Not like we were last year, where we had to continue to watch and hope and chase teams. We’re right where we want to be and just need to keep our foot on the gas."
A stern test awaits Columbus tonight. The Blackhawks come into the game holding an 11-0-0 record against the Blue Jackets since the 2011-12 season. In their last meeting on March 6 at the United Center, Chicago skated away with a 6-1 victory.
The Blackhawks, third in the Central Division (101 points), will be without Jonathan Toews (left arm) and Patrick Kane (left knee). Defenseman Johnny Oduya will also likely miss tonight’s tilt. This could bode well for the Blue Jackets, as Chicago will have to simplify their game plan.
With two points on the line, Columbus needs to play their game, stay out of the penalty box and capitalize on any mistakes that the Blackhawks make. Chicago has already clinched a playoff spot and the hometown boys look to take advantage of them at this late stage of the season.
At the end of the night, it all comes down to Columbus just taking care of business. The time for hope is past. They control their own fate. And that is a refreshing thought.