Blue Jackets get hat trick from Laine, hang on to beat Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT ― It was only one game, but those hoping the Blue Jackets finish with the best odds to win the “Connor Bedard Sweepstakes” in the 2023 NHL draft lottery might’ve felt a chill go through their spine Saturday night.

It wasn’t the Blue Jackets’ nail-biting 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesar’s Arena that did it as much as it was Patrik Laine waking from a season-long slumber fueled by injuries and a COVID-19 infection. 

Laine’s 10th NHL hat trick and second with the Blue Jackets helped Columbus build a 4-0 lead and control the game through the first two periods. The Red Wings (18-16-7) scored three in the third to make it interesting, but the Jackets got a win that lifted them out of the basement of the NHL standings.

“I feel like it’s been a frustrating season overall and it’s not just that I haven’t been scoring lately,” said Laine, who ended a nine-game goal drought with his 10th, 11th and 12th goals. “Losing’s not fun and all I’m here to do (is win). If we’re winning and I’m struggling, I’m not going to be (mad). Winning’s all that matters and tonight we got the two points, so we’ve got to be happy about it.”

Columbus Blue Jackets show resolve in win over Detroit Red Wings

Fans daydreaming about Bedard wearing a Blue Jackets uniform may beg to differ, but Columbus players still have the will to win games with 40 games remaining — starting with Laine. He scored his first two goals in the first period, helping the Blue Jackets build a 3-0 lead, and netted his third of the game 1:32 into the second to give goalie Elvis Merzlikins (25 saves) a 4-0 lead.

“We’re dead last (in the NHL), but we’re not quitting playing hockey,” said Merzlikins, who picked up his first win since Dec. 11 against the Los Angeles Kings. “We played hard and we were blocking shots, and we did simple things … I’m really happy and proud of my teammates.”

Detroit cut into the big lead with goals in the third by Olli Maata, Jake Walman and Lucas Raymond, who cut it to 4-3 with 4:04 left. Merzlikins and his teammates had to fend off a strong push to preserve their lead, which quickly dissipated after an accidental “own goal” by Blue Jackets forward Mathieu Olivier off a rebound of Maata’s shot sparked the rally.

“We haven’t been in this situation (much) all year,” Larsen said. “So, we wanted to get them started with the first one, Ollie … finds a way to kick one in for them and get them rolling. So, they score early, but we got through it. And that’s a big step for this group. I thought they handled it very well.”

Boone Jenner, Eric Robinson give Columbus Blue Jackets depth in return

Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Roslovic, Laine’s linemates, also finished with two assists and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov scored the other Blue Jackets goal. The big night for the Blue Jackets’ top line coincided with captain Boone Jenner and left wing Eric Robinson returning to the lineup from injury absences.

Robinson and Jenner teamed with Gustav Nyquist on the second line and they played well together in the first two periods. Should both ‘top-six’ lines heat up, it will give Larsen the most scoring depth he’s had all season — not to mention getting Jenner back for key draws.

“That (top) line had a good night,” Larsen said. “They could’ve had more. They were close to cashing in some more tonight (in the second). All of a sudden, now you’ve got Boone back in the lineup … and Boone’s line, I thought they gave us great minutes. You start to get some depth a little bit again and we need that.”

Is Patrik Laine about to have a ‘heater’ for the Columbus Blue Jackets?

Laine’s been through a lot of hot and cold stretches in his brief NHL career, but he can’t tell when one of his patented goal-scoring ‘heaters’ is going to start.

History shows that it doesn’t take much. That couldn’t be better news for his team’s odds of winning more often and worse news for those hoping Columbus finishes with the best odds to win the lottery.

Look no further than last season.

After returning with a cold spell following a two-month absence for a strained oblique and the passing of his father, Laine ripped off a scorching stretch from Jan. 27 to Mar. 3, 2021 with 27 points in 17 games on 16 goals and 11 assists. The Blue Jackets went 10-5-2 during that bender to keep their faint hopes alive of joining the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

What stopped it was Laine’s pilot light burning out during another cold spell, which preceded a back injury that cut his season short. This time, it wouldn’t take much for the Blue Jackets to climb out of the bottom three positions in the NHL — which they began to do Saturday by surpassing the Chicago Blackhawks into 31st with a win plus Chicago’s loss.

Columbus is now tied at 28 points with the Anaheim Ducks (30th) and sit three points back of the Arizona Coyotes (29th) and six back of the San Jose Sharks (28th).

“I mean, we’re going to play as long as we have games,” Laine said. “We’re going to try to win all the games we have left, which is probably not going to happen, but we’re trying. We’re going to try to win as many games as we can and see where we’re at in April. Crazier things have happened in this world, so you never know. We’ve got some guys healthy. We’re getting some guys confident, so you never know.”

Uh, oh.

Laine, Gaudreau showing flashes of chemistry for Columbus Blue Jackets

It took half a season, but the signing of Gaudreau and re-signing of Laine may finally be starting to take shape.

Laine’s first goal Saturday against the Red Wings, which opened the scoring with 7:13 left in the first, happened exactly how many envisioned Laine would score a lot of goals with Gaudreau — who had a career-high 115 points on 40 goals and 75 assists last season with the Calgary Flames.

On this one, Gaudreau wheeled around Roslovic on the right win, spotted Laine camped on the back door and zipped a feed through traffic that was one-timed into the net to put the Blue Jackets up 1-0 with 7:13 left in the first period. It was Laine’s 10th goal of the season and first since Dec. 17 in Boston, snapping a nine-game goal drought.

It was also the second straight game with a point for Gaudreau, who scored his 12th goal Thursday in a 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Nationwide Arena. Nobody in the Blue Jackets’ locker room is ready to pronounce Gaudreau and Laine are inseparable, but they’re making strides. It’s a similar timeframe for Gaudreau as his connection in Calgary with former teammate Matthew Tkachuk.

“We didn’t play together there for three or four years there and then just got put together one season,” Gaudreau said. “We weren’t having a great year and then had a half season to play together. And then, last year, we were back together and didn’t play a game without each other. Once you create that chemistry with a linemate and you get comfortable, and you know where he’s at on the ice, it’s a lot easier to play.”


Get more Columbus Blue Jackets talk on the Cannon Fodder podcast

Articles You May Like

Red Wings: 5 Potential Alternate Captains
Why Red Wings’ Quiet Offseason Was the Right Call Long Term
9 NHL Teams That Missed in Free Agency
NHL Rumors: Oilers, Red Wings, Flyers
Red Wings Should Still Pursue John Gibson Trade

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *