OTTAWA — Friday couldn’t have started any better for the Columbus Blue Jackets. It opened with the club trailing the Carolina Hurricanes by one point for the final Eastern Conference wild-card position.
Halfway through the day, things got drastically better with the acquisition of center Matt Duchene from the Ottawa Senators.
Fast-forward to about 10 hours later: The Blue Jackets had just leaped into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, thanks to a 3-0 blanking of the same Senators.
Sergei Bobrovsky earned his fourth shutout of the season, making 22 saves. Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand provided the goals.
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The story of the day, though, remained Duchene and what he will bring to a club that is in a nightly fight to remain in postseason contention.
The Blue Jackets have been craving someone like the 28-year-old first-liner.
“We know what type of player he is. We see the skill. It’s a great addition to our hockey club. I think it puts people in a position to fight for ice time, let alone getting in the lineup,” coach John Tortorella said. “It gives me some flexibility. [Center] Pierre-Luc Dubois was able to play wing. There’s a number of things you can do when you solidify the middle of the ice.”
“It’s hard to find to a great center when you need one — credit Jarmo (general manager Jarmo Kekalainen). In our situation right now, it’s really good timing, obviously. I’m anxious to understand [Duchene]. He had some good back checks tonight. You can see he’s a very intelligent player. We’ll see where this can go. It makes us more balanced,” Tortorella added.
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Atkinson and Artemi Panarin skated with Duchene the majority of the game. Atkinson, who leads the team with 33 goals, believes it’s only a matter of time before the trio takes off.
“We’re trying to get acclimated with one another. We’re going to get a lot of chances, and we’re going to bury them,” he said.
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno was impressed with the play of his new teammate.
“It’s pretty neat between ‘Bread’ (Panarin) and him, how they can look off and make plays. It’s been a whirlwind day for him. As he gets more comfortable with us, his skill will take off even more,” Foligno said. “There’s a way we need to play to have success. He just complements it, by adding more skill to the lineup. We’re a straight-ahead, hard-working team. With those additions, we become that much more dangerous.”
For Duchene, it’s all about making the playoffs.
“That’s what I’m looking for. That’s kind of what gets me up every morning for sure. It’s what I haven’t experienced in this league yet. It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said.
It was only one game, but the 10-year veteran was thrilled with his new linemates.
“It was fun. We did a lot of good things. We did so much five-on-five. We’ll keep on getting better, the more we play together,” Duchene said. “Panarin’s a creative guy. We see the game the same with give-and-gos. He’s a great player. You just trust him to get open. Then you get Atkinson on the other side. The three of us have a chance to do something special.”
Blue Jackets players are thankful their GM has put them in a greater position to solidify a playoff berth. Their captain knows it’s now up to them to make it happen.
“I think it sends a message on how management believes in this group,” Foligno said. “For them to go out and get a great player like [Duchene] shows they want to win. Now it’s up to us to go out and do it.”
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