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Huselius's goal in shootout lifts Blue Jackets 4-3 over Penguins

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Antoine Vermette has never missed the playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets have never made them.

One of those streaks is about to end. Kristian Huselius had a goal in regulation and the only shootout goal and the Blue Jackets beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Thursday night after blowing a three-goal lead in the third period.

Vermette, who had an assist and his first goal since coming over in a trade-deadline deal with Ottawa, said the game could serve as a lesson to a team trying to figure out how to make the post-season for the first time.

"Somehow I like facing this situation," said Vermette, who made the playoffs all four years with the Senators. "It sounds weird but good teams at this time have to show some (ability to overcome) adversity like this. (It's) obviously not the way we wanted it, when you're up 3-0. But when things aren't going our way, you've got to remember these moments."

Steve Mason was victimized for three goals in a span of 3:25 of the last period, but stopped Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout.

Once the game reached the shootout, the rookie goalie might have been the calmest soul on the ice.

"As long as we score first, I feel pretty confident," Mason said. "It doesn't matter to me what the score is or what happens in the game. My demeanour never changes out there. I was calm throughout."

The game was played before 19,167, the largest announced crowd ever to see a hockey game in Columbus.

"It was a great atmosphere out there," Crosby said. "That's the type of game you expect this time of year. A lot of teams are competing for points. The intensity is a little bit higher."

The points were important for both teams, who each came into the game in sixth place in their respective divisions.

"Look who we beat in the last three games," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We beat Detroit, we beat Boston, we beat the hottest team in the NHL. It's hard. Every game is hard. There are no breathers. ... It's the way it is right now. You have to find the energy and we need new people stepping up. We've got to keep going and keep rolling."

Jason Williams also had a goal and an assist for the Blue Jackets, who tied a franchise record for wins in a season with their 35th. They've won three in a row and four of five.

Sergei Gonchar, Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot scored for Pittsburgh and Malkin and Crosby each had two assists for the Penguins, who had a season-best seven-game winning streak end.

"Just from the talk on the bench and in the room, we knew we didn't play well tonight," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "After a few minutes in the third, we got (going). The first goal came, we dump it in, retrieve the puck and 10 seconds later it's in the net. That just hit the point home that that's how we need to play. We did it for 15 (minutes) and we get a point and we get to move on."

Mason had 38 saves while setting a franchise record for wins by a goalie with 28. A front-runner to be the NHL's top rookie, he's 28-16-3.

He stopped the first 30 shots he faced but the Penguins, down three goals, finally broke through midway through the third when Gonchar netted his fourth on a power play.

Eighty seconds later, the Blue Jackets' Jiri Novotny gave away the puck behind his own net, with Malkin grabbing it and trying a wraparound. The puck slid past Mason, with Dupuis collecting it and jamming it in for his first goal since Dec. 30.

Two minutes after that, Malkin dug the puck off the back wall and tossed a blind pass behind him to Talbot for the tying goal.

In overtime, Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz hit a crossbar before Mason gloved his slapshot 1:26 in. Mason also made a terrific blocker save on a blast by Letang.

"He made a big save on Tanger there in overtime," Crosby said. "He made some nice saves in the shootout. It's no secret that he's a great goalie. He played well again tonight."

In the shootout, Huselius, going third, slid the puck between the leg pads of Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 25 saves.

"I actually was thinking before I went out there I wanted to shoot (right away) because (Williams) and (Rick Nash) tried to deke him and I saw he had really quick legs," Huselius said. "He recovered fast. I just wanted to get in slowly and shoot it quick."

Mason then stopped Malkin, touching off a loud roar from the crowd - which included at least a couple thousand Penguins fans.

"It was a win that felt like a relief," Hitchcock said.

Notes: Hitchcock was honoured before the game for winning his 500th NHL game on Feb. 19. Pat Burns, a mentor to Hitchcock with 501 wins himself, presented him with a plaque and added, "Welcome to the club." ... It was the Penguins' last game before returning to Pittsburgh for an eight-game home stand. ... The Pens outshot Columbus 19-4 in the third and 3-0 in overtime.


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