COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets wanted their last home game in a month to be memorable.
Linemates Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner each had a goal and an assist in the first period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves to lead the Blue Jackets past the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Saturday night.
It was Columbus’ final home game until March 1, due to four road games and the NHL Olympic hiatus.
“We definitely wanted to leave Columbus on a good note,” Johansen said of the impending West Coast road trip that will lead into the break. “Now we’re heading out with three really tough games. We wanted to finish this off well, and obviously we did.”
After Brad Boyes cut Florida’s deficit to 2-1 early in the second period, Nick Foligno and Mark Letestu scored for the Blue Jackets. Nathan Horton had two assists in the opening 20 minutes.
In their last 13 games, the Blue Jackets won eight in a row, lost three straight and now have won the past two.
Down 3-1 going into the third, the Panthers dominated the pace but Bobrovsky made several big stops to maintain the two-goal lead. He improved to 11-2 in his last 13 starts.
“Our goalie was very good,” coach Todd Richards said. “We were a very opportunistic group.”
The Blue Jackets considered it a must-win game, because they started the day in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, one point out of third place and one point out of a wild-card spot.
In a crisp first period, the Blue Jackets’ line of Johansen, Jenner and Horton — ages 21, 20 and 28, respectively — played particularly well.
After getting a pass from Horton, Johansen carried the puck from the right wing and waited patiently for an opening with Jenner on his wing. As Johansen ran out of room, he wristed a shot that goalie Tim Thomas stopped. But as Thomas, lying on his stomach, tried to gather the puck, he flicked it with his stick under his glove.
Jenner crashed the net and jammed the puck into an empty net at 15:33 for his ninth goal.
“I blocked it, and then I went to pull it back with my stick, and my glove was caught on the lip of the net,” said Thomas, who had 26 saves as the Panthers lost their third in a row. “That’s bad luck. We can’t afford that. The team needs me to keep us as close as possible. We’re a little bit of a fragile team right now. That was terrible.”
Just 2½ minutes later, Jenner ended up with the puck off a pass from Horton and skated parallel to the goal line to the left wing. Jenner threw a blind, behind-the-back pass to the crease where Johansen was alone for his 22nd.
“Boone works so hard and creates so many turnovers,” said Horton, a big offseason free-agent signing from Boston who played six years for the Panthers. “And Joey (Johansen), when he has the puck, good things happen.”
Florida dominated the opening minutes of the second, outshooting the Blue Jackets 8-1.
That pressure paid off when Boyes scored his 15th goal. The puck went in off the stick of Columbus defenseman David Savard.
After Florida’s Nick Bjugstad struck a post with a wrist shot that would have tied the game, the Blue Jackets pulled away.
Foligno skated with the puck through the neutral zone, and from near the top of the right circle unloaded a snap shot that appeared to handcuff Thomas and trickled through his pads. He dived with his stick to try to prevent it from going over the line, but was too late.
“They got a missed puck that bobbled through,” Florida coach Peter Horachek said. “Then they had two that were blindly kind of thrown behind themselves that went to people. Our chances were point blank but we didn’t capitalize.”