VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets made John Tortorella sweat a little for his 500th NHL victory.
Columbus squandered leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the third period before Seth Jones scored 46 seconds into overtime Sunday to lift the Blue Jacked to a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 for their ninth straight win.
Tortorella became the first U.S.-born coach to reach 500 victories, and while he downplayed the accomplishment, Columbus captain Nick Foligno said it was a special moment when he handed the 58-year-old the game puck in a boisterous locker room.
“He says it doesn’t mean (anything), but it’s a lot of wins,” Foligno said. “He’s gone through a roller-coaster of a career … going through so many things. We’re really happy to have him at the helm here. He’s really helped push this group forward. Really gratifying for all the guys to see him get that.”
Brandon Saad had two goals and Cam Atkinson added a goal and an assist for Columbus. Alexander Wennberg had two assists and Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 14 saves for his league-leading 19th win.
Tortorella, who took over seven games into last season, has the Blue Jackets firing on all cylinders a third of the way through 2016-17 with points in 11 straight (10-0-1) to sit in the mix near the top of the powerhouse Metropolitan Division.
“I have been so privileged to have the opportunity to coach as many games as I have in the league,” Tortorella said after becoming the 24th coach in NHL history to reach 500 wins. “To get this opportunity with this club when there are so many other people dying to get in, that’s what I’m so grateful for. Not numbers, just having the opportunity.”
It looked like Tortorella might not get this opportunity after one forgettable season with the Canucks in 2013-14, a campaign that saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The fiery Boston native got off to a good start in Vancouver, but things quickly started to unravel. Tortorella was involved in an ugly incident where he attempted to charge into the Calgary Flames’ locker-room, and he also benched star goalie Roberto Luongo for the showcase Heritage Classic game, a move that ultimately led to the netminder’s trade to the Florida Panthers.
“It makes no difference, quite honestly,” Tortorella said when asked if getting to 500 against the Canucks meant more. “Coming here is fun for me because I have a lot of friends here. You guys may think that ‘He wants to get back at them.’ That’s not the way I am thinking. It’s a tremendous city, the people always treated me well.”
Brandon Sutter, Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen scored for Vancouver, while Ryan Miller stopped 21 shots.
Jones scored his fifth of the season on a 2-on-1 break with Atkinson in the extra period after Vancouver’s Ben Hutton hit the post at the other end. Jones was actually caught up the ice after his stick flew into the Canucks bench and he seemed to have to battle to pry it loose.
“I knew Cam was going to make a great play,” Jones said. “I didn’t know if he was going to shoot or not so I just went to the net with my stick down.”
The Canucks trailed 2-0 after two periods before getting on the board when Sutter scored his ninth of the season on a power play, and third goal in as many games, at 2:51 of the third.
Vancouver, which picked up a much-needed 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Friday following a demoralizing road trip, then tied it when Daniel Sedin’s slap shot from well out deflected off Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson’s skate and past a surprised Bobrovsky at 7:42.
The Blue Jackets retook the lead with 4:39 left in regulation when Saad scored his second of the game on a nice feed from Wennberg, but Hansen tied it on a shot that went off Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray with 1:09 left.
“We found a way to get back in the third, not once but twice,” said Hansen. “We had an opportunity in overtime as well. Those little margins are whether or not you get two points.”
The Blue Jackets’ top-ranked power play went to work in the second. Atkinson scored his 11th goal of the season on a rebound off a point shot from Zach Werenski at 1:10 with Vancouver defenseman Luca Sbisa off for interference.
Sbisa was then whistled for slashing midway through the period, and Columbus, which entered play clicking at 25.9 percent with the man advantage, made Vancouver pay when Scott Hartnell fed a no-look, cross-crease pass to Saad at the side of the net for his 10th with 6:42 left.
“He was pretty heated. We made him sweat for that win, but it was nice to be able to get that for him,” Foligno said of Tortorella. “He’s grown a lot as a coach and as a person. Nice to see him get rewarded.”
NOTES: The Canucks announced Sunday that D Erik Gudbranson will undergo surgery to repair ligament damage in his wrist. The team said a timeline on his recovery will be provided after the procedure.
Blue Jackets: Host Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
Canucks: Host Winnipeg in consecutive games Tuesday and Thursday.
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