TORONTO (AP) -Their bodies tired and legs heavy from a brutal stretch of five games in seven nights, the Columbus Blue Jackets and captain Rick Nash found enough energy to keep their playoff push going.
They even made it a milestone night for their coach, too.
Nash scored late in the first, set up Kristian Huselius' tying goal in the third and then fired home the shootout winner as the Blue Jackets rallied past the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Thursday night, giving Ken Hitchcock his 500th career victory.
"When you get points like you do tonight, these are valuable points that are going to make a difference at the end because this was a game where we probably didn't play our best but we still won," Hitchcock said. "It was one of those nights where we had no legs yet we found a way to get two points."
R.J. Umberger also scored in regulation for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 6-0-1 in their last seven outings despite seeming to have little left in the tank after a 4-3 win over St. Louis on Wednesday night.
The win fueled their drive for the franchise's first ever postseason berth - they began the day sixth in the super-tight Western Conference - and made Hitchcock just the 13th NHL coach to hit the 500-win plateau. He's 500-337-122, tying Toe Blake for 12th place on the career list.
"To help him get his 500th win tonight was definitely a good pat on the back for ourselves," said rookie sensation Steve Mason, who made 32 saves. "It was a good effort down the stretch."
Nik Antropov scored twice and Jamal Mayers added the other for the Maple Leafs, who lost for the fourth time in five games. They had a handful of good chances to score the winner in the third, but Mason kicked out his right leg to stop Jason Blake on a breakaway and then snagged a Mayers shot out of the air with his glove.
"It felt like it was our game in the second period," Antropov said, "but we weren't sharp enough in the third."
Rookie Justin Pogge, making back-to-back starts for first time in his career, played better than he did Tuesday night in a 4-1 loss to Buffalo, but had a tough go in the shootout.
Jason Williams claimed to purposely fan on a shot that ended up sliding past Pogge to give Columbus an early lead. Jason Blake tied it, but Nash buried a no-doubter to put the pressure on Lee Stempniak, who fired wide to end it.
"It was a great trick shot," Nash said. "I wonder how he practices that one, but we'll take it."
Leafs coach Ron Wilson wasn't so sure the move was what Williams planned.
"Maybe he did. I don't know," Wilson said. "We should study that move, it's a great move."
The Blue Jackets tied things up 3-3 just 1:48 into the third when Huselius took Nash's pretty pass from behind the net in the slot and snapped it home. That swung the momentum toward Columbus, which spent much of the first 40 minutes sending passes into teammates' skates and having the puck dribble off their sticks.
"There's an analogy in war fighting that you fight and you march," Hitchcock said. "That's what we've had to do, we fight and we march."
Notes: This was just the seventh meeting ever between the teams. The Leafs went 4-0-1-1 through the first six meetings, including a 3-1 win exactly on year earlier. ... Boyd Devereaux made his season debut for the Leafs. LW Brad May and G Curtis Joseph were healthy scratches. ... RW Derek Dorsett and D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen were scratched for Columbus.
|PPG - Nik Antropov (19) ASST: Pavel Kubina (20), Alexei Ponikarovsky (21)|
1 - 0 TOR
|Rick Nash (25) ASST: Kristian Huselius (25), Manny Malhotra (16)|
1 - 1 Tie
|R.J. Umberger (20) ASST: Jakub Voracek (21), Jason Williams (16)|
2 - 1 CBJ
|Jamal Mayers (3) ASST: Jason Blake (25), Dominic Moore (28)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Nik Antropov (20) ASST: Alexei Ponikarovsky (22), Matt Stajan (27)|
3 - 2 TOR
|Kristian Huselius (17) ASST: Rick Nash (30), Manny Malhotra (17)|
3 - 3 Tie
|1||N. Hagman||J. Williams|
|2||J. Blake||R. Nash|
|Matt Stajan Tripping against Fedor Tyutin|
|Christian Backman Interference against Matt Stajan|
|Jan Hejda Interference against Lee Stempniak|
|Jiri Novotny Interference against Jaime Sifers|
|Luke Schenn Fighting (maj) against Jared Boll|
|Jared Boll Fighting (maj) against Luke Schenn|
|Marc Methot Tripping against Jason Blake|
|Marc Methot Roughing against Ian White|
|Dominic Moore Interference against Michael Peca|