Nine days ago, goalie Mike McKenna was playing in Springfield and had just been named the AHL’s Goaltender of the Month for November. Last night, he played in arguably the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, and backstopped the Blue Jackets to a 4-2 victory.
Coming on in relief of the injured Curtis McElhinney (lower body) to start the second period, he made 17 saves on 18 shots by the Blueshirts. He played with a calmness and poise that one might not expect after not playing an NHL game in three years.
“You’re supposed to be ready at all times, right?” said McKenna. “You try to keep your head in the game, no matter what. MSG (Madison Square Garden) was one of the rinks that I always wanted to get to. It was number one on my list. It was cool being here, but to play the game is another thing. To be part of a win like this means a lot to the guys in here. It is special.”
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“It’s just great to be back in the NHL. It’s a privilege to be here and it’s just the best feeling.”
With goals coming from Matt Calvert, Artem Anisimov, David Savard and Ryan Johansen, this was a total team effort. Defensively, they played a decent game. Although this wasn’t a complete 60 minute effort, they never let the Rangers take full control of the game. They kept their passing crisp and got in shooting lanes to block shots.
“It was a great win”, said Columbus head coach Todd Richards. “It was a great start and then we managed the puck, we managed the game. Again, it was great all-around performance. We needed everybody. It was a battle for us and guys battled.”
At least from the Blue Jackets point of view, this was an emotionally charged game. “I think guys were ready for the game”, Richards said. “I think guys were geared up. There were lots of subplots going on with this game. And, I think the guys knew that. They were focused and energized.”
With Columbus on the north side of 100 in man games lost due to injury, players have found a way to step-up and make contributions in the wake of adversity. With Curtis McElhinney leaving the game after the first period, it was McKenna’s turn between the pipes.
“He came in, in a tough spot and did a great job”, said Richards. “The guys in front of him did a great job. There were some big blocks. We managed the third period, I think, pretty well. They (NYR) were trying to push but we were able to execute and come out of our zone pretty clean. We did a lot of good things.”
Columbus kept their emotions in check and never strayed away from their game plan. “For me,” Todd Richards continued, “it was when they (NYR) scored their second goal. How was the team going to react? The building got loud, but I liked the way that we handled it. It was all four lines and it was all six defensemen. There were no passengers. All of the guys were committed to this.”
Matt Calvert’s goal thirty-eight seconds into the first period was his third goal in as many games. “It was a lot of fun out there”, Calvert said. “It was a pretty cool experience to score on my first shift was even better. I had a fun game out there and the boys played great.”
“I think, as a team, we’ve found our game. We’re getting down low on the cycle and bringing pucks to the net. We’re doing things that we do best. We’re working as a team. We rolled four lines all night, three ‘D-pairing’ and we used both goalies. It’s been a big team effort as of late and we’ve got to keep it rolling.”
With the two points that come along with the win, Columbus vaulted to fourth place in the Metro Division. After 32 games, they are 14-15-3 and 6-4-0 in their last 10. They are riding a modest two game winning streak after beating two divisional rivals this week in the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. They sit two points out of third place and five points out of second in the division.
The Blue Jackets return to action Saturday evening within the friendly confines as they take on the Ken Hitchcock coached St. Louis Blues.
• Goalie Curtis McElhinney will be evaluated by team doctors today. He left the game against the Rangers after the first period with a lower-body injury.
• The Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke became the teams acting General Manager after GM Jay Feaster was fired Thursday. The search is already on for his replacement.