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Blue Jackets continue playoff push

By Santosh Venkataraman

Stats Writer

Columbus (38-28-6) at Tampa Bay (23-33-16), 7:30 p.m. EDT

TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- If the Columbus Blue Jackets reach the

playoffs for the first time, a big reason will be their play

against the Eastern Conference.

The Blue Jackets look to take advantage of their final game

versus an East team Tuesday night when they try to hand the

lowly Tampa Bay Lightning a seventh straight home loss.

Columbus (38-28-6) is closing in on its first postseason berth

in the franchise's ninth season, as it sits in sixth place in

the Western Conference.

The Blue Jackets have had trouble against the West, going

25-25-3, but are 13-3-1 versus East foes. Those 27 points tie

Columbus with San Jose for the West's highest total against the

East, but the Sharks have finished playing their 18 games

outside the conference.

Blue Jackets rookie Steve Mason leads the West with a 2.23

goals-against average, and he's been even better against the

East. Mason is 12-1-0 with a 1.06 GAA versus East teams - 5-0-0

on the road.

Mason had 22 saves and Columbus pulled off a dramatic comeback

Saturday to stretch its winning streak against the East to five

games in the opener of this two-game road trip. The Blue Jackets

scored three goals in the final 2:46 - two from Raffi Torres -

to stun Florida 3-1.

"This is huge right now," Torres said. "It shows a lot about our

team. We just kind of stick with it. We're learning now how to

win games."

Torres scored twice to give Columbus the lead and Antoine

Vermette added an empty-net goal to seal the win. Vermette has

five goals in seven games for the Blue Jackets since being

acquired from the Ottawa Senators, with whom he had nine goals

in 62 games.

"Look, we've been leaning on the same guys game in and game out,

and some other guys came through tonight," Columbus coach Ken

Hitchcock said. "And I think that's what good teams do, you get

new heroes. That's exactly what happened today."

Tampa Bay (23-33-16) had its home skid reach six with a 4-3

shootout loss to Atlanta on Saturday. The Lightning dropped to

3-10 in shootouts as they missed all three attempts.

Steven Stamkos scored twice and had one of two power-play goals

for the Lightning, with Vinny Prospal getting the other. The

power play has been a bright spot recently, with Tampa Bay

converting on 32.1 percent (9-of-28) of its chances over the

last six games.

Stamkos has four goals in the last three contests, three coming

with the man advantage. The problem for the Lightning is they

aren't getting much offense from anyone else.

"We're not getting balanced scoring right now, so that's kind of

tough on the team," interim coach Rick Tocchet said. "You have

to rely on basically one line all the time."

The Lightning allowed two power-play goals Saturday and have

yielded 73 on the season - second-most in the NHL. Columbus,

though, owns the worst power-play unit in the league, converting

at 12.5 percent.

The Blue Jackets won last season's meeting with the Lightning

5-3 at home to improve to 3-4-0 with one tie in the all-time

series. Columbus star Rick Nash has not scored in five career

games versus Tampa Bay.

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