COLUMBUS, Ohio – The crowd was quiet. The Columbus Blue Jackets appeared to be thinking ahead to a late dinner.
All of a sudden Rick Nash scored a goal midway through the third period and the Blue Jackets snapped out of their trance. Dan Fritsche’s goal with 4:05 left capped a wild six-goal third period in the Blue Jackets’ 5-4 comeback victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.
Fritsche had the winner, but it Nash seemed to touch off a powder keg.
“They seemed to get a lot of momentum off that second goal,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “We played two rock-solid periods and then they got some life, scored a power-play goal right after and made it a different ballgame at that point.”
Colorado, 10-0-0 when leading after two periods before Wednesday, led 3-1 heading into the third period. The Avalanche also had history on their side, carrying a 22-1-1-1 record in 25 meetings with the Blue Jackets – the most lopsided series in the NHL.
“We’ve got to play off the momentum we had in the third,” said Nash, who upped his goal tally to 18. “Our fans were into it, they were loud. If we can play three periods that way, we could be a pretty good team.”
The Blue Jackets pulled even on Nash’s second goal of the night and another by recent minor league recall Joakim Lindstrom with a man advantage midway through the period.
“We just did a ton of good things and played hard – played the way you should when you want to win games,” said Kris Beech, who had a career-high three assists.
Then in little more than a minute the teams combined for three goals.
Columbus’ Nikolai Zherdev scored on a low shot from the slot with 5:16 left for a 4-3 lead, but Colorado’s Scott Hannan countered off a rebound with 4:35 remaining.
Just 30 seconds later, with the crowd roaring on every play, Jason Chimera’s shot was stopped by Colorado goalie Petr Budaj, but Fritsche cleaned up on a backhander.
“We were putting all the pressure on them,” Fritsche said. “We just got the puck to the net. It was laying in front of me and I picked it up with my backhand and I had an empty net.”
It was a rare comeback for a Columbus team that has seldom even stayed close in games with Colorado.
“That’s one we let slip away,” Avalanche defenceman John-Michael Liles said.
Curtis Glencross added two assists for Columbus.
Hannan and Paul Stastny each had a goal and an assist for Colorado, and Ryan Smyth added three assists. Jeff Finger and Wojtek Wolski also scored for the Avalanche.
The Avalanche controlled the first two periods and the first half of the third.
Nash opened the scoring, pivoting and whipping the puck past Budaj. On their first power play, the Avalanche tied it on Wolski’s goal.
Then Stastny and Finger scored even-strength goals late in the second and the arena sounded like a tomb and the Blue Jackets went into a funk. But that all changed when Nash scored.
Fredrik Norrena came into to replace Leclaire in goal heading into the third period. He gave up the one goal on 11 shots. Budaj faced 31 shots.
“We got reckless and things started to turn our way,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It’s that we played for each other in the third period.”
Notes: – The Avalanche were making a brief one-game road trip before heading back home for games against Philadelphia and St. Louis on Friday and Sunday. … The Blue Jackets were playing the second of a five-game home stand and play 11 of 14 games in December at home. … Colorado needs just two more wins for 1,000 regular-season NHL victories as a franchise. The franchise is 998-888-261-38.