- Craig Custance
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COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets ran a promotion on Thursday night for the poor fans who sunk a bunch of money into a Jeff Carter Blue Jackets jersey. Bring it to the game and they’d swap out the nameplate with Jack Johnson’s for free. It was an easy switch since the defenseman acquired in the Carter trade shared Carter’s No. 7.
Avi Stein was one of the fans who took advantage, though his jersey was autographed by Carter. An autograph he was about to lose in the swap.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I don’t want that autograph.”
The fans in Columbus have moved on. Mostly. Carter was back in Columbus for the first time since being traded to the Kings two weeks ago and he was booed loudly every time he touched the puck. But the cheers for Johnson were much louder. Especially when he scored his 10th goal of the season in the second period, his second in the past two games for Columbus. He leapt high into the glass in celebration.
Thursday night’s 3-1 win over the Kings clearly meant a little something extra to Johnson.
"He was jacked up to play tonight," said his defensive partner James Wisniewski. "He kept telling me, 'Let’s win this one for me. Please.' I’m like, 'Yeah, let’s do it.'"
"This one felt good," Johnson admitted. "It’s the first time I’ve gone on the ice and looked over and saw where I know every single guy on the other team really well. It was a little weird."
The win was the fourth consecutive for the Blue Jackets, who are feeding off Johnson’s playmaking ability along with his positive attitude. Carter, who was held without a point and was a minus-1, made it clear this past summer that he wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of being traded to Columbus. Then at the trade deadline, we learned that captain Rick Nash wants out.
Johnson’s attitude had been quite the opposite and it started with the first phone call he had with general manager Scott Howson. Howson wasn’t sure what to expect from Johnson when he first let him know he was leaving a playoff race and coming to Columbus.
"His genuine excitement came over the phone. It was so nice to hear. It was so refreshing to hear," Howson told ESPN The Magazine. "It made me feel like, 'OK, this has a real chance to be successful. It starts right there with the attitude of wanting to be a part of this."
Johnson now has four points in his past three games and is a plus-6 during that stretch. The Blue Jackets improved to 4-2 since the trade.
In the win over the Kings, they got two goals from Mark Letestu and solid goaltending from the tandem of Steve Mason and Curtis Stanford, who combined to stop 29 of 30 Los Angeles shots. Mason left the game after teammate John Moore’s skate accidentally cut Mason’s hand, requiring 18-20 stitches. Mason said it’s not an injury he expects to keep him out too long.
The wins in Columbus don’t mean a thing in the big scheme of the NHL playoff race, but they mean something to interim coach Todd Richards who is trying to earn a permanent job behind the bench. They mean something to a guy like Letestu, still trying to establish his place in the NHL. They mean something to Johnson. Especially this one.
"You can’t let yourself get wrapped up into it, let your emotions carry over," Johnson said. "For sure, I wanted to get this one."