COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) — Antoine Vermette has never missed the
playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets have never made them.
Somebody’s streak is about to end.
Kristian Huselius had a goal in regulation and the only shootout
goal and the Blue Jackets beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, on
Thursday night after blowing a three-goal lead in the third
Vermette, who had an assist and his first goal since coming over
in a trade-deadline deal with Ottawa, said the game could serve
as a teaching moment to a team trying to figure out how to make
the postseason for the first time.
“Somehow, I like facing this situation,” said Vermette, who made
the playoffs all four years with the Senators. “It sounds
weird, but good teams at this time have to show some (ability to
overcome) adversity like this. (It’s) obviously not the way we
wanted it, when you’re up 3-0. But when things aren’t going our
way, you’ve got to remember these moments.”
Steve Mason was victimized for three goals in a span of 3:25 of
the last period but stopped Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and
Evgeni Malkin in the shootout.
Once the game reached the shootout, the rookie goalie might have
been the calmest soul on the ice.
“As long as we score first, I feel pretty confident,” Mason
said. “It doesn’t matter to me what the score is or what
happens in the game. My demeanor never changes out there. I
was calm throughout.”
The game was played before 19,167, the largest announced crowd
ever to see a hockey game in Columbus.
“It was a great atmosphere out there,” Crosby said. “That’s the
type of game you expect this time of year. A lot of teams are
competing for points. The intensity is a little bit higher.”
The points were important for both teams, who each came into the
game in sixth place in their respective divisions.
“Look who we beat in the last three games,” Columbus coach Ken
Hitchcock said. “We beat Detroit, we beat Boston, we beat the
hottest team in the NHL. It’s hard. Every game is hard. There
are no breathers. … It’s the way it is right now. You have to
find the energy and we need new people stepping up. We’ve got
to keep going and keep rolling.”
Jason Williams also had a goal and an assist for the Blue
Jackets, who tied a franchise record for wins in a season with
their 35th. They’ve won three in a row and four of five.
Sergei Gonchar, Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot scored for
Pittsburgh and Malkin and Crosby each had two assists for the
Penguins, who had a season-best seven-game winning streak end.
“Just from the talk on the bench and in the room, we knew we
didn’t play well tonight,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
“After a few minutes in the third, we got (going). The first
goal came, we dump it in, retrieve the puck and 10 seconds
later, it’s in the net. That just hit the point home that
that’s how we need to play. We did it for 15 (minutes) and we
get a point and we get to move on.”
Mason had 38 saves while setting a franchise record for wins by
a goalie with 28. A frontrunner to be the NHL’s top rookie,
He stopped the first 30 shots he faced, but the Penguins, down
three goals, finally broke through midway through the third,
when Gonchar netted his fourth on a power play. Eighty seconds
later, the Blue Jackets’ Jiri Novotny gave away the puck behind
his own net, with Malkin grabbing it and trying a wraparound.
The puck slid past Mason, with Dupuis collecting it and jamming
it in for his first goal since December 30.
Two minutes after that, Malkin dug the puck off the back wall
and tossed a blind pass behind him to Talbot for the tying goal.
In the overtime, Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz hit a crossbar before
Mason gloved his slap shot 1:26 in. Mason also made a terrific
blocker save on a blast by Letang.
“He made a big save on Tanger there in overtime,” Crosby said.
“He made some nice saves in the shootout. It’s no secret that
he’s a great goalie. He played well again tonight.”
In the shootout, Huselius, going third, slid the puck between
the leg pads of Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who
finished with 25 saves.
“I actually was thinking before I went out there I wanted to
shoot (right away) because (Williams) and (Rick Nash) tried to
deke him, and I saw he had really quick legs,” Huselius said.
“He recovered fast. I just wanted to get in slowly and shoot it
Mason then stopped Malkin, touching off a loud roar from the
crowd – which included at least a couple thousand Penguins fans.
“It was a win that felt like a relief,” Hitchcock said.