On a Columbus Blue Jackets team with many veterans, it was one of the youngest, and most potent offensive players, Ryan Johansen, who sent the home crowd home from Nationwide Arena happy as he netted a goal past the glove side of Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Thomas Greiss for a 4-3 overtime victory Tuesday night.
Johansen's only goal of the game, which came after defenseman James Wisniewski forced a turnover and slipped a pass through the neutral zone, was his fourth game-winner, and 32nd, of the year.
"Wiz created a turnover. It popped loose and he made a great pass to me going up and I just picked far side and it happened to go in," Johansen told Fox Sports Ohio after the game.
The win helped the Blue Jackets earn their 88th and 89th points of the season, which kept them in firm control of the second wildcard spot in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as within striking distance of the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
"That extra point meant everything," Wisniewski said. "We still had five minutes left in overtime, still had the shootout, whatever it took, and we got the job done. That shows maturity.
"The best feeling is we've got everything in our own hands. We're not worrying about teams beating other teams. We worry about ourselves and we're in, not like last year. We finished 9-1 last year and fell one point short of the tiebreaker. For us, it's about playing our hockey, worrying about the next game, taking it one game at a time."
Blue Jackets left winger Blake Comeau gave the Columbus faithful plenty of reason to cheer, as he snapped a shot into the upper right corner of the net past Greiss for the go-ahead goal late in the third period. For Comeau, it was only his fifth score of the season.
"We did get a lucky bounce there hitting the ref, and I did pull up," Comeau told the Blue Jackets Radio Network. "I think I was looking for a trailer there a little bit, and then, I didn't see anything open, so I just tried to turn and fire on net as hard as I could and I was lucky enough that it went in, so I'll take it.
"I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't a tough stretch for me there where I get injured in practice, miss a couple months and then, not be able to find my way into the lineup. That being said, the guys played great while I was out, positioned ourselves well for a playoff spot, and I was just happy to get back in the lineup and contribute where I can.
"This is the time of year where guys have to elevate, so I'm trying to do my best to elevate and contribute where I can."
However, the Blue Jackets could not hold the lead, as for the second time in their last three home games, they surrendered a score with less than 30 seconds to play.
With the extra attacker on after Greiss was pulled, Phoenix's Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a pass from Mike Ribeiro and wristed a shot behind Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left in regulation.
The offensive flurry late in regulation and overtime came in stark contrast to the beginning of the game for the Blue Jackets.
Despite registering only four shots on goal in the first period, the Blue Jackets took an early lead over the Coyotes when center Boone Jenner took a pass from right winger Nathan Horton and wristed it past Greiss with 11:45 to play before the first intermission. However, Columbus' lead would not last long.
Phoenix right winger Martin Erat, who tormented the Blue Jackets dating back to his days with the Nashville Predators from 2001 through 2013, was able to get the Coyotes on the board with a disputed goal.
The shot got behind Bobrovsky, but play had been stopped after the official lost sight of the puck. Upon replay review, the puck completely crossed the red line, which tied the score 13:32 into the first.
The Coyotes were not done scoring, as their captain, right winger Shane Doan blasted a slap shot past Bobrovsky for a 2-1 lead, an advantage which Phoenix carried into the first intermission.
While the offense struggled to control the puck in the early going of the second period, Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov forced a turnover and slipped a pass to Mark Letestu. Letestu burned Greiss with a wrist shot and scored his 10th goal of the season at the 5:25 mark.