RALEIGH, N.C. – The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to play well in their first real run at the playoffs.
Don’t worry about playing an exciting game. Just grind out a victory, the way they did Saturday night in a 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Blue Jackets got outstanding defence in front of goalie Steve Mason, and two goals from Kristian Huselius, to improve their road record to 10-14-4.
A fourth consecutive victory – following a three-game win streak at home – puts Columbus into the thick of the playoff chase in the Western Conference.
The loss for the Hurricanes, their second consecutive ugly one at home, drops them five points behind Buffalo and Florida for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve put together a pretty good stretch of hockey,” Mason said. “I think everybody realizes what’s at stake with the games left this season. We have to take advantage of it. The standings, every day they change.”
The Blue Jackets say they believe in the system of coach Ken Hitchcock, who won a Stanley Cup with Dallas 10 years ago.
“We know we have the personnel. We know we have the ability. We know we have the game plan to get wins now,” centre Manny Malhotra said.
“It’s not a matter of just going out there and rolling the dice. It’s having confidence in each other to play well. And when (Mason) is standing on his head the way he is, that boosts our confidence.”
Mason had several puck-stopping flurries in the first and second periods, but he was helped out by skaters who blocked 29 shots.
“Our defence and goaltending really held us in,” Hitchcock said. “I thought out defencemen as a group played really well.”
The Hurricanes had no trouble finding the net on a recent West Coast swing, scored 13 regulation goals in three games. But since returning home, they have been outscored 10-1, including Thursday’s 5-0 loss to Southeast Division foe Florida.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said sometimes playing on the road is easier for a team trying to make the playoffs.
“In some ways, there’s less pressure,” Maurice said. “They’re not here to put a show on. They’re here to grind you. They’re not interested in playing an exciting game, just an effective one.”
The Blue Jackets didn’t get a shot for the first 10 minutes, but they didn’t mind. On their first shot, from former Hurricane Mike Commodore, they got a goal.
Huselius added a power-play goal in the second period, following up a rebound after Cam Ward stopped Kris Russell’s initial attempt. R.J. Umberger’s power-play goal, his 17th of the season, made it 3-0 early in the third.
“We’re not doing enough to score goals,” Maurice said. “When you’re playing catchup all the time, it’s very, very difficult.”
Dennis Seidenberg scored unassisted with 13:31 remaining for the Hurricanes, who outshot the Blue Jackets 27-19.
Malhotra added a goal for the Blue Jackets with 9:24 remaining, and Huselius completed the scoring with an empty-net goal, his 16th of the season.
Notes: The Hurricanes activated Seidenberg before the game, and defenceman Bryan Rodney was reassigned to Albany of the AHL. Also, the team placed defenceman Frantisek Kaberle on waivers. … The Blue Jackets improved to 16-3 when leading after two periods. … Umberger’s goal was the Blue Jackets’ first of the season on a 5-on-3 power play.