COLUMBUS, Ohio – In an otherwise unimportant game in the middle of a long, losing season, the Columbus Blue Jackets chose to see an encouraging sign.
Derek MacKenzie scored 32 seconds into the third period to help the Blue Jackets rally from a two-goal deficit and beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Tuesday night.
It was the first time this season the Blue Jackets have come back to win after falling behind 2-0.
“There’s been times in the past when we’ve talked about sticking together, we’ve talked about playing as a team, rolling four lines, getting something from everybody,” MacKenzie said. “After the first period, that’s exactly what we did. We did what we had to do to get the win.”
The defeat in a matchup of the teams at the bottom of the Western Conference could be particularly costly for the Oilers, who lost Taylor Hall for the game during warm-ups when he collided with a teammate and fell. Hall was cut above his eye on another teammate’s skate and couldn’t play.
“This is one of those fluky things,” coach Tom Renney said, adding that Hall had wanted to play. “It just happens. Not much we can do about it.”
Down 2-0 after nine minutes, the Blue Jackets stormed back.
Ryan Johansen and Derick Brassard also had goals, and Derek Dorsett added an empty-netter for Columbus, which had lost three of four and 11 of 14. Curtis Sanford made 21 saves.
Colton Gillies, playing his first game for the Blue Jackets, had the primary assist on MacKenzie’s goal.
“It feels great,” said Gillies, claimed off waivers from Minnesota on Saturday. “I was out there for a goal right off the start and I was, like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a long night.’ But we all turned it around. Everyone was sticking up for each other out there. It’s good to see.”
With the game tied 2-2, Gillies made a big play. Wearing the number 9 his uncle Clark Gillies donned with the New York Islanders from 1974-86, he chipped the puck along the boards and retrieved it.
“They turned the puck over, and I had some speed going,” he said. “I just tried to chip it by him. It just kind of worked out. MacKenzie was driving hard to the net. I saw him, and we just kind of put the pieces together.”
He eluded a defender and slid an ideal centring pass for MacKenzie’s jam shot.
“I talked to (linemate Jared Boll) over the last three or four games and said, ‘We just can’t get frustrated. We’re doing the right things, but we’re just not getting breaks,'” MacKenzie said. “That was the reward for probably the last two or three games for our line.”
It was MacKenzie’s first game-winner in 58 NHL games, dating to March 12 at Carolina.
“The role players stepped up for us,” Brassard said. “We’ve lost a lot of games this year in the third period. For us to get that goal, the winning goal like that, it’s huge for our team.”
For interim coach Todd Richards, coaching his fourth game since taking over for the fired Scott Arniel, the victory was a glimmer of hope.
“I don’t think it was our best hockey or what we’re capable of,” he said. “But the positive thing coming out of the game, we found a way to win. We kept pushing. I liked our third period, playing with the lead. Obviously, a great goal to start the period. And I liked the way we finished it.”
After Anton Lander and Ben Eager gave the Oilers a quick 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets scored twice in the second period to tie it. First Johansen scored off a lead pass from Antoine Vermette, then Brassard rammed home a shot off a pass from Rick Nash that went off the skate of Edmonton defenceman Jeff Petry and ricocheted off goalie Devan Dubnyk’s back into the net.
With three of their top four scorers sidelined, including Hall, the Oilers couldn’t catch up. They have lost six of seven.
“We became a little bit unglued in the second period and we gave them a chance to feel a little better about their game, and them coming after us,” Renney said. “We tried to push through in the third to get ourselves the equalizer, but tough start to the third with the go-ahead goal.”
NOTES: Gillies is the 14th player to make his Blue Jackets’ debut this season. … The Oilers had lost five in a row and eight of nine before beating Los Angeles 2-1 in overtime on Sunday. … Columbus LW R.J. Umberger was placed on the injured list. He was injured when he took an elbow to the head from Anaheim’s Jean-Francois Jacques on Sunday.