By MITCH STACY, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Just three games back after an injury that sidelined him for nearly a month, Markus Nutivaara played in place of injured star Seth Jones on the power-play unit. His second-period goal ended up being the game-winner for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nutivaara scored his first goal since Jan. 23, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 23 shots, and the surging Blue Jackets outlasted the Ottawa Senators 2-1 Saturday night for their season-high seventh straight win.
“Jonesy is definitely a key guy, so you can see we miss him,” said Bobrovsky, who picked up his 32nd win of the season. “But still we have depth on defense. Guys were smart, Nuti stepped up tonight and made a huge goal.”
The Blue Jackets are holding on to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 83 points, tied with Philadelphia and one point ahead of New Jersey. Bobrovksy said the team is loose and playing as well as ever.
“It’s become that feeling that you can relax and just do your thing and don’t worry about anything else,” he said. “You know that guys will do their job. We have a good atmosphere in the locker room.”
Boone Jenner also scored for Columbus, his third tally in three games.
Alexandre Burrows scored his fifth of the year and Mike Condon stopped 33 shots for Ottawa, which saw a three-game winning streak snapped on the second night of a back-to-back.
Burrows gave the Senators a 1-0 lead when he knocked a bouncing puck past Bobrovsky from the doorstep 12 minutes into the first period. Jenner tied it up later in the first when he caught up with a fluttering pass from Thomas Vanek in the slot and lifted it over Condon’s shoulder.
“I can’t overstate how important that play was, just to get us tied,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “I thought it was a really good effort by Thomas in the neutral zone. It was a huge play in the game to get back even before maybe they score another one. If they score another one, you never know where it goes.”
Ottawa’s Max McCormick went to the penalty box late in the second period for plowing over Bobrovsky, a hit that required a trainer’s visit to make sure the goalie was OK. With 22 seconds left in the Blue Jackets’ power play, Nutivaara connected on a slap shot from the point.
Senators coach Guy Boucher said his team is showing the effects of a difficult schedule.
“We gave whatever we had,” Boucher said. “It was a back-to-back. They were waiting for us. This was our fourth back-to-back in 15 days and all four back-to-backs were against teams that were not on the back-to-back. So at some point you have to be fair to the players. It’s ridiculous. They gave everything they had until the very end. They pushed with whatever was left.”
NOTES: Ottawa F Ryan Dzingel had to be helped off the ice in third period after getting hit in the head. Boucher said afterward that he’s expected to be fine. … Columbus coach John Tortorella said Jones, who has an “upper body— injury, is day-to-day. … Ottawa F Jim O’Brien got his first assist since March 16, 2013 — five years and a day — on Burrows’ first-period goal. … Condon started for Ottawa after Craig Anderson made 23 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against the Dallas Stars on Friday. … Jenner has four goals and two assists in the last five games. … Columbus is 17-0 when leading after two periods at Nationwide Arena.
Ottawa: Hosts Dallas on Friday.
Columbus: Plays at Boston on Monday.
More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy
© 2018, The Village Reporter and/or The Associated Press. All rights reserved.