Bill Guerin scored the only goal in the shootout and the Blues rallied to beat Columbus 4-3 Wednesday night in the Blue Jackets’ final game before Ken Hitchcock takes over as coach. “He’s a patient goalie and waited, too,” Guerin said of his winner against Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire, which ended St. Louis’ three-game slide. “They can only back up so much.”
As a team, the Blue Jackets, losers of a season-high seven straight, have nearly backed themselves out of playoff contention. They are hoping a new coach can salvage their season.
Hitchcock’s hiring was announced by team president and general manager Doug MacLean shortly before the Blue Jackets took the ice to face the Blues.
“I’ve got to believe that nobody is throwing in the towel,” MacLean said during the first intermission. “I know I’m not and I guarantee you Ken Hitchcock isn’t, and I hope nobody in our dressing room is.”
Hitchcock, whose Dallas team won the Stanley Cup in 1999, will make his debut Friday afternoon at Philadelphia against his former team. The Flyers fired him last month after the team’s 1-6-1 start.
St. Louis goalie Manny Legace stopped all four shootout shots he faced, including a glove save on Manny Malhotra’s last attempt.
“This is huge,” said Legace who finished with 29 saves. “We need to get back on a roll. We battled back and I thought the guys played phenomenal tonight all-around.”
Jamal Mayers had two goals, including the tying score with 2:18 remaining, and an assist for St. Louis, which also broke a five-game road skid. Ryan Johnson also scored and Barret Jackman finished with two assists.
“I’m happy to be able to chip in,” Mayers said of his career-high three points. “We got the win and we needed it.”
Fredrik Modin and Nikolai Zherdev each had a goal and an assist for Columbus, which has the fewest points (12) in the league. Rostislav Klesla also scored and David Vyborny added two assists.
Leading 3-2 after scoring earlier in the third period, Columbus failed to get a clinching goal on a 1:10 two-man advantage late in the period. Moments after the power play expired, Mayers, positioned near the crease, tied it by knocking the puck in from midair.
“I was waiting for it to come down before it was at least below the crossbar,” Mayers said. “It seemed like it took forever.”
The Blue Jackets took their first lead on Modin’s goal at 7:06 of the third period. Vyborny stole the puck from Jackman near the Blues’ net. He circled and found Aaron Johnson in the slot. Johnson’s shot bounced off both Legace and Modin and across the goal line.
“It is still a matter of us trying to find a way to win,” Columbus interim coach Gary Agnew said. “Giving up a one-goal lead … under three minutes to go, we just need to make smarter plays.”
St. Louis scored early in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. After a Blues faceoff win at the left circle, Jackman dropped a pass to Mayers. who had his point shot redirected by Ryan Johnson in the slot.
Zherdev tied it with his fifth of the season, but the Blues went in front again in the second period.
Jay McClement curled around Vyborny in the right corner and centered a pass that bounced off a skate in the crease to Mayers, alone at the back post. Mayers slid the puck between the legs of Leclaire for his third of the season and first since Oct. 12.
Notes: Interim coach Gary Agnew went 0-5. … LW Rick Nash missed his second consecutive game with a sore groin. … Columbus has lost five straight at home. … The Blues entered with a 1-7-1 road record. … St. Louis C Dallas Drake played in his 900th career game.