Blue Jackets kill three 5-on-3s in rare feat, drive momentum to take down Jets

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the final seconds of regulation ticked by and the undermanned Blue Jackets held on to a one-goal lead, the crowd at Nationwide Arena mostly stood up and began chanting, “CBJ! CBJ! CBJ!”

If you’d closed your eyes for a brief moment and forgotten everything you’ve seen of the Blue Jackets this season, you wouldn’t have believed that this was a largely meaningless game against a non-conference opponent.

The Blue Jackets beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 in front of 16,032 fans who – hell with the lottery – want to win games and blow up as much as possible. In a season with very few smiles, the jackets delivered in this one.

With less than two seconds remaining, Boone Jenner’s goal with the empty net sealed the win.

“In the position we’re in, we have guys who are sold out and blocking shots by doing the right things,” said Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who had six shots blocked. “(Fourth line winger) Mathieu Oliver will be sore after the last shift (two blocks) but it shows there’s a lot of character in this space.

“Ice hockey is really fun here. We wish we would do it for a playoff spot or first place or something.”

The Blue Jackets wiped out three 5-on-3 advantages for Winnipeg — one late in the first (for 29 seconds), another in the middle of the second (54 seconds), and a third early in the third period (42 seconds). If that sounds like a pretty rare feat, you’re right.

The NHL’s record book for such stats doesn’t start until the 2009-10 season, but the only previous example of the Blue Jackets wiping out three two-man advantages – specifically 5-on-3 – was March 12, 2011 against carolina.

The last time it happened in the NHL was more than three years ago when Vancouver killed three in Boston on February 4, 2020.

“I can’t remember the last NHL game I saw that even had three 5-on-3s,” said Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen. “Unique circumstances, but the killers were superb. (Goalkeeper Joonas Korpisalo) was outstanding. That was a huge boost for us.”

Even more impressively, the Blue Jackets managed to do so without defender Vladislav Gavrikov, a top penalty killer who was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row while GM Jarmo Kekalainen works to secure a trade.

They also killed two of the 5-on-3s without Gudbranson, a wrinkle-clearing giant. Gudbranson took the second penalty in the first and third 5-on-3s, so he watched from the penalty box.

“It took everyone to get through this,” Gudbranson said. “I’ve been in the pits for a couple of them and other guys have stepped up and done a great job. Those were important kills.”

When Gudbranson was freed from the box in the second half, he was gifted a loose puck in the neutral zone when the Winnipeg puck carrier blew out a tire just outside the door. Gudbranson started with a breakaway but was stopped by Jets goalie David Rittich.

“Actually, I have a few (breakaway moves),” said Gudbranson. “I just haven’t had a runaway in 10 years.”

The Blue Jackets scored goals from Patrik Laine, Kent Johnson and Jenner. Laine’s power-play goal at 10:00 in the second period brought the Jackets back from an early 1-0 deficit and gave him three goals in three games against his former club.

Johnson was still on the ice after a power play expired at 9:40 of the third and he had just made a stunning pass across the slot that Emil Bemstrom shot wide from the left circle. But seconds later, Johnson recovered the puck and took a different route.

He looked for a fast lane out of the right circle, but found none. So he fired a low burner through a forest of knuckles and watched as the puck surprised Rittich just above his left pad. It was 2-1 Jacks.

Johnson now has 12 goals and 27 points, good for fourth place among NHL rookies in both categories.

“I tried to surprise him,” Johnson said. “I thought it was traffic. I wanted to make a play and didn’t see a really great one, so I threw it in the net.

The game’s first star, deservedly so, was Korpisalo, whose name is appearing in trade rumors as the March 3 trade deadline approaches. Korpisalo finished with 37 saves, improving his record to 9-10-3, an impressive mark for a club that has 17-34-4 overall.

Korpisalo has spoken openly about how much he is enjoying this season after missing much of last season following hip surgery. When he’s on his way out of town, he leaves with a high pitched note.

“Tonight’s crowd was one of the reasons we got going in the second half,” said Korpisalo. “The crowd rushes, we rush, Patty scores a big goal… it all feeds us.

“To be bottom of the league and to have so many viewers… it’s unreal.”

With Thursday’s win, the Blue Jackets moved away from last place in the NHL standings. They skipped Chicago by a single point.

(Photo: Greg Bartram/NHLI via Getty Images) Blue Jackets kill three 5-on-3s in rare feat, drive momentum to take down Jets

Russell Falcon

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