COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets got a milestone win. And still had a sour taste in their mouths.
That’s either a sign along the road to respectability for the Columbus Blue Jackets – or just a detour to an ulcer for coach Ken Hitchcock.
Steve Mason made 21 saves – none bigger than a key stop in the closing seconds after allowing two third-period goals – to lead Columbus past the St. Louis Blues 4-3 Wednesday night, putting the Blue Jackets six games over .500 for the first time in team history.
Maybe it’s a mark of how far the franchise has come that even a win left a bad aftertaste as the Blues rallied from a 4-1 deficit with 14 minutes left to make the final minutes uncomfortable for a crowd of 14,305 – and one anxious coach.
“The third period is why I don’t like coaching,” said Hitchcock, who got his 499th career NHL win. “We played the score, not the game. St. Louis has no quit in their team. Win or lose, they play right until the end of the game. We got casual.”
Still, the victory lifted Columbus into a tie for fifth in the Western Conference with Vancouver, both with 64 points. The Blue Jackets (29-23-6), who have never made the playoffs in the franchise’s eight years, have 11 points in their last six games.
Rick Nash, Manny Malhotra and Fedor Tyutin each had a goal and an assist. Andrew Murray also scored for Columbus.
Brad Winchester, Alex Steen and T.J. Oshie had goals for St. Louis, which had won both meetings this season and the last five in the series.
“We’ve been struggling against that team, especially this year,” Tyutin said. “That was pretty big to get on the board first, to take the momentum.”
The Blues scored two third-period goals to cut the lead to one and make the final few minutes interesting – or stressful.
“We played really strong hockey against them, then allowed them to come back,” Malhotra said. “Fortunately we had a strong enough lead we were able to survive it. Playing against a team like this that can sting you at any time, that’s just not going to be acceptable coming down the stretch.”
Mason was at his best with just over 13 seconds remaining, with the Blues pressuring with an extra attacker. Brad Boyes fired a shot that the rookie goaltender blocked, and David Backes took a whack at the puck as Mason smothered it.
Last in the NHL on the power play, the Blue Jackets cashed in the first time they had a man advantage. After Barret Jackman was called for holding barely a minute in, they needed just seven seconds to put the puck in the net.
Tyutin’s shot from the left point through traffic clanged off the far post and then off St. Louis goaltender Chris Mason’s back and into the net. Tyutin, acquired in a trade last summer with the New York Rangers, had scored 15 goals in his first 250 NHL games and has eight this season in 58 games.
The Blues contributed to the second goal. With Columbus pest Derek Dorsett dogging the puck in the St. Louis end, the Blues’ Steve Wagner braced for a hit from Dorsett as he flipped a pass behind his own net. The puck went directly to Malhotra, who quickly jammed it inside the post before Chris Mason could recover.
“It’s just not playing smart,” St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. “We gave up a power-play goal on a poor call by the official. We just didn’t respond after that little bit of adversity. Then we turned the puck over when we had full possession behind our net and all of a sudden it’s 2-0. We made a mistake on the penalty kill, and we made a mistake when we had the puck.”
After Winchester cut the lead in half, Nash picked up his 24th just 25 seconds later on a tape-to-tape pass from Malhotra. Murray, following his own shot, benefited when Tyutin’s low, hard shot off the rebound ricocheted off Murray’s stick and past Chris Mason.
Steen scored short-handed and Oshie netted a shot off a nifty assist from Andy McDonald to set up the wild finish.
“We felt that we had it won,” Columbus forward R.J. Umberger said. “We wanted to get cute and fancy, run up the score. The only way you run up the score is you play the way you did before that.”
Notes: Columbus LW Raffi Torres was scratched due to flu-like symptoms. … Chris Holt came on in relief of Chris Mason in goal for St. Louis after two periods. … Blues RW Brandon Crombeen dropped Dorsett with a straight right when the two squared off, then Dorsett pulled down the referee who was trying to help him up. … The last time Columbus was five games over .500 was Jan. 24, 2008. The Blue Jackets promptly lost the next four games.