A five-overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of a first-round playoff matchup threatened to send the Columbus Blue Jackets reeling.
Instead, they rebounded with a relatively uneventful and commanding 3-1 win on Thursday to even the series up at one victory apiece. Coach John Tortorella and a couple of his players spoke to the media on Friday afternoon to reflect. Here are three things they talked about.
Showtime for Wennberg
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Alexander Wennberg.
His between-the-legs goal to give Columbus a 3-1 lead in the third period on Thursday, however, wouldn’t have anyone knowing that.
“It was a huge goal for our team, obviously to make it a two-goal lead,” Zach Werenski said. “Then just the skill I think he showed on that goal. We see it all the time in practice. That's a move that's hard to pull off in a game. For him to execute it so perfectly and then end up burying it was awesome. It's a big goal for him. It was a big goal for our group. Hopefully we can see more of that moving forward here.”
The moment, which made its way around the NHL community Thursday evening, was a long time coming for Wennberg. A former first-round draft pick by the Blue Jackets, his career hasn’t always been on a steady upward trajectory.
In the regular season, he only managed five goals, and he had two goals the year prior.
“They're happy for him,” Tortorella said. “They know that he's been kind of in and out, down in the lineup, out of the lineup. It's a tight group. They pull for one another. He's had some struggles along the way the past couple of years. They pull for him.”
Listen to Zach and Gus check in from the bubble pic.twitter.com/YsgUVpJy7K— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) August 14, 2020
PLD Gets Rolling
Against most teams the Blue Jackets both have faced and will face in the postseason, they’ll be at a talent disadvantage at forward. Pierre-Luc Dubois is doing his part to shrink that gap, however.
A 22-year-old already playing in his third career postseason series, Dubois leads the Blue Jackets over the past seven games in points (8), goals (4) and assists (4).
Tortorella isn’t looking to crown him quite yet. He said on Friday that he’s seen Dubois do what he needs to do to take the next step “at times” but needs him to be “to be more consistent.” The translation? Tortorella thinks he can be great and doesn’t want him to stop improving anytime soon.
“I think he's definitely elevated his game in terms of I think he knows how he has to play to be successful in this league,” Werenski said. “I think when he's moving his feet and he's hard on pucks, there's not many guys that are better than him in that area of the game. When he gets his feet moving and wants to take pucks to the net, not many guys can stop him, and I think you can kind of see where he’s grown in that area.”
Gustav Nyquist called Dubois an “unreal player,” echoing much of what Werenski said.
“I think he probably doesn't get enough written about him,” Nyquist said. “He's a horse out there. He can dominate games. He's so strong on the puck, and he's a force out there for us. He's been great here so far. We need him to be great going forward here.”
Dubois had one assist in Game 1 and two assists in Game 2.
No word yet on whether he’ll continue the trend with three assists in Game 3, but Columbus sure wouldn’t mind.
Head coach John Tortorella speaks to the media on Friday morning. Listen below pic.twitter.com/xLMq5EQ62R— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) August 14, 2020
Signs of Power-play Life
Don’t celebrate yet. It’s far too early, and there’s far too small of a sample size, but the Blue Jackets have begun to convert on the power play.
In the first five games of the postseason against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus went scoreless with a man-advantage on the ice. It didn’t score once on 14 power-play opportunities, looking hapless out there. In each game versus Tampa Bay, however, the Blue Jackets have scored a goal on the power play.
The first power-play goal came early in Game 1 when an Alexander Texier shot grazed Dubois’ glove to find an opening, and the second was in Game 2 on a shot from Oliver Bjorkstrand.
“Hopefully, we can keep that working moving forward,” Werenski said. “In the playoffs, special teams is a big part of success.”
The sign of life was important for assistant coach Paul MacLean, who’s in charge of the power play. Still, though, there’s plenty of room to grow. Columbus is averaging a goal on only 9.1 percent of its power plays, which ranks fourth-worst among teams in the postseason.
“I'm just hoping that we can get it more consistent,” Tortorella said after Game 2. “We had a chance in the third period to give us a little bit of breathing room, and we spent it in our end zone with their forechecking. There's still a ways to go with that.”