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Atkinson, Letestu help Blue Jackets defeat Capitals

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- If the Columbus Blue Jackets are going to make a push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will need more games like Tuesday, when players throughout their lineup contributed in a 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals at Nationwide Arena.

Ryan Johansen, MVP of the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, held in the same building Sunday, had a goal, and Nick Foligno, also an all-star, had two assists to help the Blue Jackets (21-22-3) win for the third time in four games.

Cam Atkinson scored his first goal in 18 games, giving Columbus a 4-2 lead 5:20 into the third period.

Mark Letestu hadn't scored in the previous eight games until he was set up by Corey Tropp, who got his first point in 29 games. Defenseman Fedor Tyutin scored his first goal in 10 games and had an assist.

The offense helped goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who made 25 saves in his first start since starter Sergei Bobrovsky sustained a groin injury Jan. 21 that will keep him out at least four weeks.

Atkinson opened the season on a line with Foligno and Johansen but had been dropped to the third line until being promoted Tuesday in the first game after the All-Star break.

"It was trying to get guys home, trying to create some offense," Columbus coach Todd Richards said of the line shuffling. "We got that tonight from Cam. It was great to see."

On the goal, Atkinson took a pass from Tyutin, and the puck went off his stick to the face of Washington center Nicklas Backstrom.

"I was stunned when it came back to me," Atkinson said. "I wanted to get the shot off as fast as I can."

That's the key for Atkinson.

"I felt like I wasn't shooting enough," he said. "Obviously when you're playing with a couple of all-stars they help you out. I tried to shoot when I could and make plays.

"I wasn't sure when I was going to score again, but it definitely felt good to get that one out of the way. I was fortunate to play with them the first 10 games of the season. We had a lot of good chemistry."

Center Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist for the Capitals (24-14-9), and defenseman Matt Niskanen assisted on each of the first two goals in the second period by Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer.

The Capitals have allowed 17 non-shootout goals in their past four games (0-3-1).

"If you're trying to beat teams 5-4 in this league, you're not going to do it," Washington coach Barry Trotz said.

Washington drew to within 4-3 with 7:51 left in regulation when Kuznetsov was at the edge of the crease for a rebound goal, his fifth, but Columbus was able to close out the game with a strong defensive effort.

"They came back a couple of times but for the most part we stayed the path," McElhinney said. "We were ahead a couple of goals most of the game. That was nice. We played a pretty solid third period to wrap it up."

Four goals were scored in the final 4:21 of the second period. Columbus scored twice, but Washington responded quickly each time. The Blue Jackets had a 3-2 lead after the second period.

Johansen made it 2-0 with a one-timer from the high slot that eluded the glove of Holtby. Kevin Connauton fed Johansen out of the right corner for his 18th goal.

"Speaking for my line and [Foligno], I felt a little slow at first," Johansen said. "Once the second period came we found our game and really started creating chances for ourselves."

The Capitals needed 33 seconds to pull to within a goal. Burakovsky redirected a shot from the right point by Niskanen into the net with Backstrom getting his 400th NHL assist on the goal.

"Our line is doing some really good things," Burakovsky said. "We just have to play a little better in the D-zone. We turn the puck over in the neutral zone and in our zone we have to be better."

Columbus regained a two-goal advantage with 56 seconds remaining in the second when a Tyutin slap shot near the blue line skimmed past the left pad of Holtby to make it 3-1.

Brouwer scored for Washington 36 seconds later with another tipped goal of a Niskanen shot.

"We had good responses when we really needed it to get back closer in the game," Niskanen said. "We got some goals to keep us in it but we couldn't sustain enough good things. There's too many mistakes that are biting us right now."

The Capitals were 0-for-3 on the power play, and the Blue Jackets were 0-for-5.

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