On the heels of a much-needed win and two points Sunday against the Sharks, the Columbus Blue Jackets faced their fourth-consecutive opponent from the Pacific Division Tuesday at Nationwide Arena. The NHL’s surprise of the year, Vegas Golden Knights, made their first-ever trip to Central Ohio. Along with them, the equally as surprising, team-leading goal scorer, William Karlsson made his return.
Karlsson was greeted with a graphic tribute after spending the past two-plus seasons in Columbus.
With Sergei Bobrovsky ill, Joonas Korpisalo made the start in net for the Jackets, his last start coming just five days ago in the 5-2 loss to the Kings. All the more reason to start things fast and give the young netminder a confidence boost.
The Knights, who last defeated the Devils 3-2 Sunday to snap a three-game skid, started another familiar foe in Marc-Andre Fleury.
It took all of 16 seconds off the opening faceoff for the Jackets to forecheck their way up the ice with a myriad of quick touch-passes and the finish by Artemi Panarin (21) through the legs to give Columbus the lead. Zach Werenski, playing the part of the rover, immediately went up the ice after D-to-D passing to help facilitate the play. Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois picked up assists.
The goal was the Jackets’ fifth-consecutive game scoring first.
It looked as if the Jackets added to the lead when Dubois fired from the slot at 13:46 but a lengthy offside challenge by Gerard Gallant was upheld.
You can see the stick-on-puck contact just in the nick of time as Atkinson attempted to keep the play alive. The play was further developing around Fleury in between the offside and eventual goal.
Vegas had three odd-man rushes but Korpisalo stopped all 19 shots he faced. Erik Haula led Vegas with four shots in the period.
Haula would not waste much time knotting the score at one apiece, just 90 seconds into the second. David Perron picked up his team-leading 44th assist on the play and Alex Tuch also picked up an assist.
Werenski stayed hot with his fourth point over his last three games now, and in the process, set a franchise-record with his 13th goal, the most by Blue Jackets defenseman in a single season. He did it with a slap shot on the feed by Panarin.
The Jackets were able to capitalize on the momentum, seizing the opportunity and padding the lead with Ian Cole scoring his first as a member of the Blue Jackets. Fleury appeared handcuffed by the shot that somehow made its way through. Cole has four goals this season and three have come versus his old Penguins teammate.
A suddenly hot penalty-killing unit kept Vegas off the board all night, as the Jackets killed off all four penalties. It was not until 17:57 of period two was the first penalty of the game handed out, with Alexander Wennberg getting called for slashing. The Knights also lost Reilly Smith who left late in the period after getting tangled up with David Savard in the boards.
Columbus only had five shots in the second and were outshot 31-14, but they held the edge in scoring chances 17-10 and high-danger opportunities 6-5.
Leading 3-1 entering the third, Korpisalo started the final 20 strong with a quick save off the opening faceoff.
After just one penalty through two periods, the play opened up a bit in the third, a combined five penalties inside the first 8:27.
Dubois earned his 15th of the season on the empty net with Panarin picking up his team-leading 37th assist and third point on the evening. The Knights were not able to find their scoring touch as Korpisalo (36 saves) was sharp all night. He picked up his sixth win of the season, first since Jan. 18, as the Jackets defeat the Golden Knights 4-1 to keep distance with the Devils for the first wild card.
The win is Columbus’ 14th consecutive in which they held their opponent to under three goals. Karlsson was held scoreless and a -3. Panarin led Columbus with five shots on goal. With Atkinson’s assist, he now has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last six games.