CALGARY – The Columbus Blue Jackets may still be in the NHL cellar, but they haven’t been playing like a last-place team lately.
Rick Nash scored the tying goal with 58 seconds left in the third period then scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Columbus Blue Jackets a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
The reinvigorated Blue Jackets improved to 4-2-2 in their last eight games. Even one of their recent losses was impressive—they fired a franchise-record 48 shots on goal in a 4-1 defeat Tuesday night in Vancouver.
“Tonight was our first come-from-behind win on the road this year, so it’s a big deal,” said Nash, who leads the Blue Jackets with eight goals.
It looked like Calgary was in control, leading 3-1 with less than five minutes remaining in the game but Columbus scored twice to pull even.
Blue Jackets centre Derek MacKenzie won a faceoff deep in the Flames end and Columbus quickly worked the puck back to defenceman Nikita Nikitin at the blue-line, who fired a slapshot past a screened Miikka Kiprusoff at 15:55 of the third period.
With goaltender Curtis Sanford pulled for an extra attacker, Nikitin set up the tying goal at 19:02 when his slapshot from the blue-line was deflected in by Nash.
“I like the fact that we didn’t stop playing,” said Columbus coach Scott Arniel. “We took right up to the end of the game to get the tying goal but we’ve had lots of games where we’ve lost those. This team needs a game like that, a come-back game like that.”
After neither team could end it in overtime, Calgary became the final NHL team to appear in a shootout this season.
Their first appearance in the tiebreaker didn’t go well. Nash faked a shot and slid the puck through Kiprusoff’s legs, then Sanford then denied Rene Bourque and the comeback was complete.
“We turned the puck over a couple times in the last few minutes, we lost position on Nash’s goal, he was wide open for that slap tip. They outworked us in the last five minutes,” said Bourque.
The loss ended the Flames’ modest two-game winning streak.
“We’re a team that’s trying to build some momentum and we can’t be giving away points,” said Flames defenceman Chris Butler. “It’s nice to get one, but those are games we have to nail down a win.”
Antoine Vermette also scored for Columbus (7-15-3), which plays in Edmonton on Friday night.
Lee Stempniak, Bourque and Blake Comeau, with his first goal of the season, scored for Calgary (10-12-2). The Flames next game is also in Edmonton, on Saturday night.
Co-starring with Nash in the victory was Nikitin, who had a three point night.
Acquired from the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 11 in exchange for Kris Russell, Nikitin has a goal and seven assists in 10 games with the Blue Jackets after recording zero points in seven games earlier in the year for the Blues.
“He created the first two goals and obviously set up the last one too,” Nash said. “Credit to him, he had a big night and on the road, you different guys stepping up, and guys you wouldn’t expect.”
Vermette, who knocked in a Nikitin rebound for the game’s opening goal has also been impressed with what he has seen from the 25-year-old Russian.
“He’s been really good for us, he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Vermette said. “He’s holding onto the puck, making plays, he seems pretty calm back there. He’s been pretty effective for us and tonight, obviously, he came up with some big plays.”
Bourque broke open a 1-1 tie with 19 seconds left in the second period. After streaking past Blue Jackets defenceman Jim Wisniewski, he wired a slapshot into the top corner past Sanford.
Bourque, who had just a goal and an assist in his last 15 games, showed his elation jumping head-on into the corner glass after the goal as the sell-out crowd of 19,289 roared its approval.
Calgary extended its lead to 3-1 5:48 into the third period when Comeau scored his first goal of the season on a two-on-one.
Comeau entered the night with no points in his first 19 games. It was his fourth game with the Flames after being claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders, where the 25-year-old scored 24goals last season.
In his eighth straight start, Sanford had 32 saves to Columbus to improve his record to 4-2-2.
Kiprusoff had 30 saves for the Flames and fell to 10-9-2.
Notes: For the first time since the end of the 2008-09 season, D Mark Giordano (hamstring) was not in of the Flames line-up. It ends a stretch of 187 consecutive games. Taking his spot was veteran d Cory Sarich, a healthy scratch nine of the last 11 games…The Flames were 0-for-1 on the man advantage. Bourque scored Calgary’s last home power play goal on Oct. 26. Since then, they are 0-for-28. They are 2-for-45 at home on the season.…Calgary is 12-1-3 in the last 15 home games against Columbus…Prospal’s assist on Nikitin’s goal was his 700th NHL point.