VANCOUVER – Despite losing their captain and an offensive sniper at the NHL trade deadline, Jason Chimera and the Columbus Blue Jackets still believe they have a chance at making the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets moved one step closer to their goal on Friday, pulling off a rare 3-2 comeback victory over a normally stingy Vancouver Canucks squad.
Andrew Murray and Rick Nash scored 70 seconds apart early in the third period and Chimera played the overtime hero as the Blue Jackets (30-27-9) won for the first time since losing defenceman Adam Foote and flashy forward Sergei Fedorov in separate trades on Tuesday.
The victory leaves the Blue Jackets with 69 points, three behind idle Colorado for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Nashville (72 points) and Phoenix (71 points) also stand between the Blue Jackets and their first-ever playoff appearance.
“I’m not going to lie to you – there was a mental letdown for the team when that happened,” Chimera said of the trades. “But this win is huge. It puts us three points back (in the standings). We want to keep going, and we’re still in the race.”
“A lot of teams are writing us off right now, but for us there’s no point,” added goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who made 21 saves. “We’re not going to go down easy. We’re there so we might as well just try to make something out of it and prove people wrong.”
Chimera won the game 1:07 into the extra session by driving the net hard, beating defenceman Kevin Bieksa to the crease and tipping Nikolai Zherdev’s pass behind a surprised Roberto Luongo.
“He’s a great goalie and it’s hard to beat him, so I’m happy,” said Chimera, who broke an eight-game goalless drought. “It’s nice to win it for the team.”
From Vancouver’s perspective, Friday’s defeat was like a brutal re-run of their 3-2 shootout loss to Colorado on Wednesday. The Canucks (32-22-10), who sit in seventh place in the Western Conference with 74 points, allowed the tying goal with 15 seconds remaining in the third period of that game.
“We’re disappointed,” said Canucks captain Markus Naslund. “Up 2-0 going into the third means we shouldn’t lose. We made some sloppy plays and let them back in.”
Ryan Shannon and Sami Salo scored for Vancouver, which had been 23-0-0 when leading after two periods. Despite the loss, the Canucks have collected points in eight straight games (5-0-3) and finished February with a 6-1-5 record.
“We worked hard, but didn’t get the win,” said Luongo, who refused to compare the Columbus game to the Colorado game. “We’ll get it next game.”
Murray got Columbus’s comeback started with an odd goal 5:18 into the third period.
Defenceman Dick Tarnstrom fired a seemingly harmless shot from the point that hit Murray, who was part of a four-man scrum in front of the net, and bounced over the head of Luongo.
The Blue Jackets were clearly lifted by the goal, as Nash struck on a breakaway at 6:28 with the teams playing 4-on-4.
Nash pounced on a Henrik Sedin turnover at the Columbus blue-line, skated the length of the ice untouched and flipped a backhander past Luongo’s glove.
“It’s funny, he struggles on the shootout, but when he’s in a hurry on the breakaway he scores,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of Nash, who is 3-8 in shootouts this season.
Henrik Sedin appeared to regain the lead for Vancouver on a power play midway through the third, but his goal was called off because he high-sticked the puck behind Leclaire.
The Canucks also had a goal called back in the first period, with the game scoreless, when it was ruled Markus Naslund bumped Leclaire as Daniel Sedin’s shot went in.
“It’s disappointing the first one didn’t count,” Naslund said. “I thought it should have, but there’s not much we can do now.”
The Canucks led 2-0 after two periods, despite being outshot 21-15.
The lone goal of the period came at 10:58, when Salo blasted a point shot from the right boards that found its way past Leclaire’s glove. The goal was set up by a strong forecheck from rookie Mason Raymond, who hammered Ole-Kristian Tollefsen on the end boards.
Tollefsen took another beating later in the period, as he dropped the gloves with a much smaller Rick Rypien but got a face full of left-handed punches.
Earlier in the period, Blue Jackets forward Dan Fritsche and Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa fought to a draw.
Shannon had the only goal of the opening frame thanks to a nice passing play with Trevor Linden and Taylor Pyatt.
After stepping out of the penalty box for an interference penalty, Shannon took a drop pass from Linden and snapped a shot through Leclaire’s legs.
The point was Shannon’s seventh (one goal, six assists) in seven games since being recalled from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
NOTES: Canucks defenceman Aaron Miller returned after missing 10 games with a foot injury. … Canucks forward Byron Ritchie missed the contest after straining his lower back during practice on Tuesday. … Trevor Linden’s assist on Shannon’s goal snapped a 10-game pointless streak for the longtime Canuck. … Nash extended his points streak to four games (three goals, one assist).