Torres, Mason help Blue Jackets down Predators

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In the biggest game in franchise history,
the Columbus Blue Jackets relied on their lucky charm.

Raffi Torres, small in stature but very big in heart and grit,
scored early in the third period and Steve Mason made it stand
up as the Blue Jackets beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 Tuesday
night in a key Western Conference showdown.

Columbus, which solidified its hold on sixth place, is 11-0 when
Torres has a goal.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s a fluke,” he said with a
chuckle. “I didn’t even know about it. I’ve just got to keep
doing what I’m doing and hopefully we’ll keep going.”

Michael Peca and Torres came in on a 2-on-1 against defenseman
Shea Weber, and Peca’s shot resulted in a short rebound. Torres
jammed the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne with a backhander at
4:05 for his fourth goal in six games.

“He scores big goals all the time,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“He’s had a huge impact on a lot of games in the last month.”

R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who have 88
points, four ahead of Nashville and five in front of
eighth-place St. Louis.

“We approached this as the biggest game of the year,” Umberger
said. “We set ourselves up the first two periods. The third
period, we said, ‘This is the biggest period right here. We’ve
got to find a way to win this.’ We outplayed them. And we can’t
let it slip.”

The Blue Jackets had lost two in a row, both to St. Louis,
watching several pursuers draw closer in what had seemed a
somewhat comfortable lead in the playoff race. They’re trying to
make the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s eight

“This was a huge two points to kind of create a little breathing
room,” said Mason, who had 21 saves.

Cal O’Reilly gave the Predators a lead midway through the first

“We’ve just got to fight for points,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I
wish we would have been able to get a point. It’s not
necessarily about winning or losing, it’s about getting points.
Because you never know what point may get you in or may keep you

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The Predators played their first game without second-leading
scorer Martin Erat, out a month after breaking a leg on Sunday
in a victory at Detroit.

Rinne, who had 31 saves in a matchup of two premier rookie
goalies, was swarmed for most of the first period as the Blue
Jackets outshot the Predators 17-6.

Late in the period, Antoine Vermette fed Umberger in the right
corner. He skated along the goal line unimpeded and his shot
deflected off Rinne’s chest. Umberger then pounced on the short
rebound for his 26th goal.

It stayed 1-1 through two periods, with both goalies making
occasional spectacular saves.

Then it was time for the pesty, pesky Torres to strike again.

“I saw Peca coming to pick it up, 2 on 1,” he said. “I knew he
wasn’t going to be able to pass it; their defenseman did a good
job of taking the pass away. I just went to the net with my
stick on the ice. It worked out perfect.”

Mason and the Blue Jackets, without a penalty for 2 periods, had
to survive 28 seconds of 5-on-3 and another full 2-minute kill
down the stretch.

Mason made a nifty glove save on Michael Santorelli just before
the two-man advantage started, then smothered one shot during
the power play. Late in the second penalty, Mason had a kick
save on Joel Ward’s quick, spinning backhander from the high

With 7 minutes left, a dump into Nashville’s offensive end took
an odd bounce off the boards and ended up on the stick of the
Predators’ Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist shed a defender and had a
clear path to Mason but the goalie deflected the shot.

Each team has five games left, with Nashville hosting the Blue
Jackets on Saturday night.

“We’re going into their building for the next game,” Mason said.
“We have to be prepared. We can’t sit tight with this one.”