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John Tortorella became the first American-born head coach to reach 500 career NHL wins when his Columbus Blue Jackets picked up a 4-3 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones scored in overtime as the red hot Jackets continued to roll with their ninth-straight win.
With the victory, Tortorella moved to 500-413-37-90 in a career that has also included stops with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Canucks. He won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Lightning.
“I have been so privileged to have the opportunity to coach as many games as I have in the league and to get this opportunity with his club, when there are so many other people dying to get in,” Tortorella said. “That’s what I’m so grateful for. Not numbers, just having the opportunity.”
Tortorella has sometimes come under fire for his no-nonsense persona, but overall the Blue Jackets have bought in to his style. Columbus improved to 20-5-4 with the victory, just one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers for most in the Metropolitan Division – though the Jackets have three games in hand on the Penguins and four on the Rangers.
Last season, Columbus was 34-33-8 under Tortorella after he took over following Todd Richards’ firing. That year, the Blue Jackets didn’t win their 20th game until Feb. 4 and finished 34-40-8.
“I’m trying to enjoy it more,” Tortorella said. “I’m on the back nine. That’s just the way it is. I’m fortunate enough to be in the league a long time. I know it’s not going to be forever, so I do want to try and enjoy it.”
Columbus has the NHL’s best offense at 3.34 goals per-game and second-best defense allowing 2.07 goals per-game.
“(Tortorella) says it doesn’t mean (anything), but it’s a lot of wins,” captain Nick Foligno said. “He’s gone through a roller-coaster of a career. Really gratifying for all the guys to see him get that.”
Winning his 500th game also is a significant marker in Tortorella’s personal turnaround this season. He coached Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey and took blame for why the Americans didn’t win a game in the tournament.
“We know what type of person Torts is and what type of guy he is and so frankly I don’t think we pay attention too much to what the media makes of it and I know he doesn’t really himself. It doesn’t matter,” Team USA and Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky said last October. “All that matters is what his players and his management and everyone else thinks of him and that’s it.”
Tortorella moved into 24th place on the all-time NHL coaching wins list, one ahead of Terry Murray and tied with Toe Blake. Peter Laviolette’s 490 wins rank second amongst American-born coaches.
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