CHICAGO – Antoine Vermette is fitting in perfectly with the Blue Jackets.
Vermette scored two goals to help Columbus beat Chicago 5-3 on Friday night for its fourth straight victory since he joined the team in a trade with Ottawa.
“I got to say since I got here, the guys have made it easy on me. Everyone is working hard and working the same way,” Vermette said. “I couldn’t ask for anything for better than that. Guys are playing pretty well with good structure.
“I’ve been luck enough to never miss one playoff. Having a chance to join this group of guys and make a pretty good push, I’m pretty happy about it.”
Vermette has three goals and three assists since the March 4 trade.
“He’s been a big help,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s just part of the team now.”
Backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz made 27 saves, and Kristian Huselius, Raffi Torres and Rick Nash added goals. Columbus is sixth in the Western Conference – four points ahead of Edmonton and Dallas – in its bid to make the playoffs for the first time.
Dubielewicz got the call after Steve Mason made 38 saves and stopped all three Pittsburgh shooters in Columbus’ 4-3 shootout win Thursday night.
“We needed him and he stepped up,” Hitchcock said. “That’s what happens when you’re part of the team.”
Dubielewicz made his third appearance with the Blue Jackets after they claimed him on waivers in January. His last win in the NHL was on April 4, 2008, with the New York Islanders.
“For me personally, it was a big thing for Hitch believing I could come in and play down the stretch here,” Dubielewicz said. “It was a great thrill, especially when you’ve got a guy like Mase, who plays 90-95 per cent of the games.”
Brent Seabrook, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane scored for Chicago, which has lost three of its last four and is 3-5-1 in its last nine.
The Blue Jackets took a 2-0 lead in the first period by capitalizing on Chicago defensive coverage breakdowns.
“We had a good finish, but to be successful in this league you have to have a good start,” Seabrook said. “Any time you give up two goals early and don’t respond in the first period, it’s pretty tough to come back in this league.”
Chicago’s Cristobal Huet made 17 saves in his 12th start in Chicago’s last 14 games. He normally alternates with Nikolai Khabibulin, who hasn’t played since aggravating a groin injury Feb. 11.
Khabibulin, activated from injured reserve Wednesday, backed up Huet, and might start the Blackhawks’ next game, at home Sunday against the New York Islanders.
The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets will play each other three more times in the regular season. The two teams could meet in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks, fourth in the Western Conference, appear headed to the post-season after missing it for five straight seasons and nine of the last 10.
Vermette opened the scoring just 45 seconds in. After Huet made saves on Jan Hejda and R.J. Umberger, Vermette popped in a loose rebound from just outside the crease.
Huselius made it 2-0 with his 20th goal midway through the period. He slipped in alone on right wing after taking a pass from Jakub Voracek, deked Huet to the ice and scored on a backhand shot.
The Blackhawks came back to tie it on goals by Seabrook and Versteeg 1:40 apart early in the second.
Seabrook cut it to 2-1 on a low, screened drive from the right point 1:42 into the second and 2 seconds after a Chicago power play elapsed. Versteeg tied it at 3:22 with a power-play deflection of Duncan Keith’s shot from the left point.
Vermette’s second goal, on a power play with 2:16 left in the second, restored Columbus’ lead at 3-2.
Fedor Tyutin’s shot from the left circle hit traffic in front of the goal and deflected to Vermette, who was alone at the right edge of the crease.
Torres made it 4-2 at 3:50 of the third by driving to the net and knocking in a rebound of Michael Peca’s shot from the right corner.
Kane’s power-play goal with 5:57 left in the third cut it to 4-3.
The Blackhawks pressured in the final 1:01 with a power play and with Huet on the bench for an extra attacker. Nash, however, scored short-handed into an empty net with 19 seconds remaining.
Notes: Chicago RW Martin Havlat returned after sitting out a game – his first this season – because of a bruised leg. Havlat has 12 goals and 19 assists in 30 games since Jan. 1. … Chicago RW Patrick Sharp has resumed skating. He has missed 12 games with a left knee injury. … Columbus D Marc Methot sat out his first game with a concussion. LW Fredrik Modin missed his fourth straight and 12th in 13 with a knee injury.