Blue Jackets stay in playoff hunt

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 26, 2013
Cam Atkinson scored two goals and Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves and the Columbus Blue Jackets stayed alive in the Western Conference playoff race with a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Mark Letestu snapped a 1-1 tie in the third period for the game-winner. Before the game ended, the Stars were eliminated from playoff contention when Detroit defeated Nashville 5-2, moving past Minnesota into seventh in the Western Conference. The Blue Jackets are even in points with the Wild, who hold eighth place due to the non-shootout wins tiebreaker. Columbus needs to beat the Predators on Saturday, and have the Stars beat the Red Wings in regulation on Saturday, or have the Wild earn no more than one point in their two remaining games, for just the second postseason berth in franchise history and first since 2009. Making the playoffs would cap off a remarkable turnaround for Columbus, which started the season 5-12-2 and was last overall in the NHL in late February, before reeling off an 18-5-5 run since to make an improbable run at a postseason berth. The Blue Jackets, which concluded a six-game road trip with a 5-1-0 record, got two third-period goals from its league-worst power play to secure the triumph. Jamie Benn scored for the Stars, who have lost four straight (0-3-1) to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, the longest drought in franchise history. Kari Lehtonen made 32 saves. Letestu's 13th goal of the season snapped a 1-1 tie at 7:56 of the final period, just three seconds after Stephane Robidas entered the penalty box for an interference penalty. Steve Dubinsky won the faceoff, pulling the puck back to Letestu at the right point for a slap shot that appeared to nick off Eric Nystrom's stick and sailed over Lehtonen's glove. The goal snapped a 1-for-22 power play drought for Columbus. Bobrovsky came up with a big pad save at 10:10 to preserve the Columbus advantage, denying Ray Whitney's wrist shot from the slot. A Nystrom interference penalty with 2:49 remaining put the Blue Jackets back on the power play and Atkinson capitalized on the opportunity with 1:40 to go. After Lehtonen stopped Jack Johnson's shot from the left point, the rebound came out to the left of the crease, right to Atkinson, who tucked it just inside the left post for his eighth goal of the season. After falling behind on the game's opening shift, the Stars tied it on the power play at 8:43 of the second period. Erik Cole's pass into the slot from the right faceoff circle deflected off Atkinson's stick and bounced right to Benn at the left post for an easy tap-in. Benn's 12th goal of the season - and fourth in the past six games - swung the momentum Dallas' way and it continued to press throughout the period. Their best chance to take the lead came with 2:25 remaining when Antoine Roussel and Cody Eakin each had multiple whacks at a loose puck during a mad scramble in the Columbus crease, but Bobrovsky shut the door. The Blue Jackets jumped on top immediately, as Atkinson scored just 19 seconds into the opening period. Lehtonen stopped Blake Comeau's wrist shot from the slot, but left a rebound next to him in the crease and Atkinson pounced on it, jamming it home for a 1-0 lead. NOTES: Bobrovsky, considered a Vezina Trophy candidate as the NHL's top goaltender, entered with a 16-5-3 record since March 1, with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage, as well as four shutouts. ... The Stars honored former D Richard Matvichuk as part of their 20th anniversary all-time team. Matvichuk, who played in Dallas from 1993-2004 as part of a 14-year NHL career, was part of the franchise's only Stanley Cup team in 1999.
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