COLUMBUS, Ohio – The latest addition to the Columbus Blue Jackets is proving to be a perfect fit.
Antoine Vermette took a pass from R.J. Umberger and scored 2:38 into overtime, giving the Blue Jackets a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
“It doesn’t get much better than a playoff race,” said Vermette, acquired this month in a trade-deadline deal with the Ottawa Senators. “It’s great. I’m pretty happy.”
Umberger carried the puck up the right wing on a 2-on-1 in overtime, sending a saucer a pass that tumbled to the high slot where Vermette beat defenceman Brian Campbell to the puck and chipped it past Cristobal Huet for his first game-winner in more than a year.
How valuable an addition has he been to the Blue Jackets’ first stretch run? He’s scored points in five of his six games with Columbus.
Umberger, Derek Dorsett and Rick Nash added goals for the Blue Jackets, who came into the night sixth in the Western Conference. Columbus tied a franchise record with 80 points while winning for the fifth time in six starts.
For the first time, the Blue Jackets find themselves watching the scoreboard to see how it affects their playoff run.
“When you’re in this kind of race, everybody checks every once in a while,” Dorsett said. “No one really pays too much attention. You’ve just got to worry about yourself and make sure you’re getting the two points.”
Rookie goalie Steve Mason stopped 24 shots to improve to 29-17-3.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had a goal and an assist, and Dave Bolland also scored for the Blackhawks, who have lost four in a row and six of seven. Huet made numerous spectacular saves, stopping 24 shots.
“Obviously, the way we’ve been playing, it’s good to get a point,” Kane said. “But you want to go in and win that game. So it’s disappointing not to get two. You can tell by everyone’s reaction in the locker room that we’re not real happy.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville looked at the game as a small step.
“The confidence is a little bit off,” he said. “We stemmed a little bit of the flow going against us. (But) we’ve got to (start) winning and feeling a little more confident at critical times of games.”
The teams traded goals throughout the game before a scoreless third period.
Bolland scored in the opening minute before Umberger redirected a tape-to-tape pass from Jake Voracek to tie it.
After Dorsett jammed in a rebound, Troy Brouwer deftly slid a pass from behind the net to Kane for a hard one-timer to even it at 2-2.
Toews was the beneficiary of two nifty passes when he scored his 29th for a 3-2 Blackhawks lead. Kane tossed a cross-ice pass to Cam Barker, who set up Toews with a centring pass.
Nash then fired in a wicked wrist shot from a hard angle high over Huet’s right shoulder for his 34th.
That set the stage for the overtime drama – and Vermette’s big moment.
“He’s been solid since we got him,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s an unassuming player. He doesn’t stick out until you look a the scoresheet and he’s won key faceoffs, got the puck out and he’s done the good job killing penalties and scored big points. Every night he gets the job done.”
Notes: Chicago C Sammy Pahlsson made his Hawks debut. Acquired at the March 4 trade deadline from Anaheim, he had not played since Jan. 31 while recovering from mononucleosis. … Barker sustained a lower-body injury in the second period and was to be evaluated back in the Chicago on Thursday. … The crowd of 15,190 booed relentlessly after back-to-back calls against Blue Jackets RW Jared Boll for diving and D Rostislav Klesla for boarding.