After picking up six points from a brutal slog through five games in seven nights, the Blue Jackets could be forgiven for falling into a trap game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning - particularly since they’d thrashed them 5-3 down in Florida just a few days ago.
Any other season, that’s likely what would have happened.
But this season? It’s not the Same Old Jackets.
Assaulting Andrei Vasilevskiy from the drop of the puck, the Blue Jackets relentlessly attacked the Tampa Bay defense, racking up six shots on goal before the Lightning managed to squeak one shot on net. (Which Sergei Bobrovsky turned aside with ease.)
William Karlsson opened the scoring at just past the five minute mark of the first period, breaking into the zone with Josh Anderson, taking Anderson’s perfect backhand pass and snapping it into the back of the net.
Despite outshooting Tampa 18-6 in the first, Karlsson’s goal was the only marker for the first period, but that would change quickly in the second period.
We keep saying Alexander Wennberg needs to shoot more - and when he does? It leads to beauty goals like the blast from downtown that he smoked past Vasilevsky to extend the lead to 2-0 after Seth Jones made a great play to save the puck at the blue line and get the puck to the Swedish pivot.
A few shifts later it appeared the Lightning had cut the lead in half, but referee Tim Peel waved the goal off immediately, stating that Sergei Bobrovsky had been interfered with.
The call on the ice would be challenged by Tampa, and at certain angles it certainly appeared that Jack Johnson was the player who jostled Bob in the crease, but the NHL Situation Room upheld the call on the ice, with the home crowd roaring approval.
Once again the Hartnell, Karlsson, Anderson line lead the charge tonight, and would be rewarded for their efforts late in the period, with Hartnell sending a pass from behind the net to Anderson in the slot, and the rookie was on the mark to give his team the 3-0 lead.
Just in case the Lightning didn’t get the message, that same line picked up where they left off to start the 3rd period, with Scott Hartnell scoring for the first time since November 4th’s humiliation of the Canadiens.
With the 4-0 lead firmly established, the Jackets did start to ease off the pedal a bit, but still grabbed opportunities where they could be found - case in point, Sam Gagner forcing a turnover and taking the puck to the net for the 5-0 score.
Brandon Saad appeared to make it a 6-0 lead on the following shift, but on review it was determined his shot hit the crossbar and corner of the net but did not actually cross the goal line, and the goal was called back.
As time wound down, the only question was if Sergei Bobrovsky would keep the shutout he had meticulously maintained, but unfortunately the Lightning would take advantage of Josh Anderson losing his stick and some traffic around the net for Valtteri Filppula to squeeze the puck past a screen provided by Alex Killorn for the only Tampa goal of the night.
Despite that slight disappointment, the Jackets had no complaints about the final results in a 5-1 victory, and even though head coach John Tortorella identified some issues in his post game press conference, he happily called the team’s effort a quality win against a quality opponent - a fitting way to wrap up the best November in franchise history.
The challenge for the Blue Jackets is to keep up the high level of performance they’ve established as they go into December, particularly with a Central Division and Western Canada roadtrip coming up. If the Jackets can go 6-4-1 (or better!) in their eleven games before the Christmas break, the team could potentially challenge Washington for the third spot in the Metro - perhaps even threaten to overtake the Penguins and gain ground on the Rangers.
“Your Metropolitan division leading Blue Jackets” would be one hell of a Christmas present, wouldn’t it?