As early season games go, the Blue Jackets’ 4-2 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night carried a lot of importance.
The Jackets’ promising start had begun to run out of steam during a four-game winless skid, the always challenging Lightning were back in town, and Tampa's core of Stanley Cup winners was poised make it a five-game streak. That didn't happen thanks to a three-goal third period for the Blue Jackets sparked by an impassioned speech that helped them pull even at 4-4-2.
Here are five things we learned:
Columbus Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent instilling confidence
The Blue Jackets were regrouping from a tough second, trailing 2-1, when coach Pascal Vincent entered the locker room.
What he delivered were strategic changes plus a collective shot in the arm during an impromptu speech about the need to believe in themselves while chasing one of the NHL’s top teams.
What is it about Blue Jackets speeches against the Lightning, right?
Vincent, of course, downplayed the role of his speech in his team's stirring comeback, but veteran Erik Gudbranson had already told reporters about the importance of it.
Gudbranson, who scored the winning goal, said it was well-timed, inspiring and informative.
“Pazzy came in, and what he said hit the nail on the head,” Gudbranson said. “Called it as he saw it, and we did a really good job coming out and believing in our ability to come win the game. That’s a tough team to take wins from and we did a lot of good things. From last year to this year, that’s a significant difference in how we handle that deficit going into the third.”
Vincent isn’t a yeller, but he is an orator. He's also instilling belief in the Blue Jackets for this season and the years ahead. Nobody believes in them more than their head coach, who's talked about his “vision” for the team's future, immediate and long-term, since opening camp in the wake of former coach Mike Babcock’s resignation.
It’s starting to take hold inside a locker room shared by veterans and talented youngsters at various stages of NHL development. Vincent hasn’t taped a yellow “Believe” sign above his office door yet, but the unabashed belief in his team's potential rubs off on players.
“It certainly does, a lot more than you guys think,” Gudbranson said. “He came in between the second and third, and what he came in and said was bang on. It was shrewd. It was honest and it was helpful also. There was guidance along with that too. So, he’s doing the right things, a lot of the right things, in getting us (going) in the right direction. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson gets just reward against Tampa Bay Lightning
Gudbranson doesn't jump off the stat sheet often for goals, assists or points, and the same holds for “advanced” metrics. He’s simply a grizzly bear of a defenseman, an old-school, stay-at-home guy with more skill than critics admit.
Gudbranson, 31, is also an intimidating presence as the Jackets’ on-ice sheriff and is now sporting a “Movember” mustache that makes him look like he should own a badge. Meeting with reporters with a sweat-stained ball cap on his head, Gudbranson couldn’t hide his smile after netting a huge winner in game No. 721 of his career.
The goal was scored with a thunderous slapper from above the right circle, ripping into the net on the far side.
“Everybody likes scoring goals,” he said, smiling.
Everybody on the Blue Jackets enjoyed watching it.
Gudbranson does a lot of good things that go unnoticed, including a slick play to keep the puck in the offensive zone against the Lightning moments before Kirill Marchenko scored the game's first goal.
Watching him score the winner two periods later was a reward for all Jackets players, coaches and staff.
“He’s a leader on our team,” Vincent said. “I think he’s at a point in his life that he knows exactly what he is, and who he is, and he’s very confident about what he can do on the ice. The stats don’t always relate to who’s playing really well. We could argue that Erik Gudbranson is one of our best players.”
Columbus Blue Jackets rookie Dmitri Voronkov improving fast
The improvement Dmitri Voronkov is making at the NHL level just four games into his career is remarkable. It’s also noticeable on nearly every shift he gets.
Voronkov assisted on Marchenko’s goal for his third point in four games, on a goal and two assists since making his NHL debut a week ago in Montreal. Marchenko assisted Voronkov later by translating during his postgame interview.
“He said, 'Every game is easy for him to step up," Marchenko said. "And he said, for joke, ‘I come in for our lineup and it’s easy for me.'"
Voronkov, 23, is certainly making it look easier than it was for him starting training camp. He's turning into a 6-foot-5, 240-pound menace for opposing defenders, and not just because of his size and aggression.
Voronkov’s skill with the puck, which he displayed for three-plus years in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan, is starting to creep out. He’s got passing vision, soft hands and is learning to use his body to wall off defenders.
It’s early, but he could play his way into the race for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL’s top rookie by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Columbus Blue Jackets deal Tampa Bay Lightning rare goose egg on power play
The Blue Jackets killed all three Tampa Bay power plays during an eye-opening performance against the NHL’s fourth-ranked team in man-advantage situations.
The Lightning entered the game ranked third before coming up empty on three power plays in the second period. They scored back-to-back goals to start that frame, but neither were power-play tallies.
The Jackets’ performance while shorthanded was one of the few positives for them in that period and it continued an impressive run of success killing penalties. It was their third straight game without allowing a power-play goal and their penalty-killing units have only allowed goals in one of the past seven games. The Blue Jackets, whose penalty kill is coordinated by assistant Steve McCarthy, improved to an 85.3% effectiveness that ranks ninth in the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins stays sharp against Tampa Bay Lightning
Elvis Merzlikins had a pedestrian .898 save percentage through six games before facing the Lightning, but the Blue Jackets’ top goalie has mostly played well for them.
The Lightning are still one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive teams, especially on power plays, so making 27 saves on 29 shots had to give Merzlikins a boost. The goals he allowed were also a result of puck bounces off the skates of Blue Jackets players. He had no shot to stop either one.
Following the win, Merzlikins improved to 3-2-2 in seven games with a 2.97 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. He’s already been a lot better than last season and has a lot of games left to continue that improvement.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 5 things we learned from Blue Jackets' win over Lightning