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Blue Jackets 2, Predators 1 @NHLdotcom

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Raffi Torres has been in lots of do-or-die games before. So he's showing the young Columbus Blue Jackets the way.

Torres scored early in the third period and Steve Mason made it stand up as the Blue Jackets beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 Tuesday night in a key Western Conference showdown.

The victory, maybe the biggest in franchise history after seven years missing the playoffs, solidified the Blue Jackets' grip on sixth place. Nashville, which could have tied them, is four points back, with eighth-place St. Louis five back.

The Blue Jackets are 11-0 when Torres scores. He has a team-leading six game-winners.

"In this locker room, we're focusing in on making the playoffs," said Torres, a key part of Edmonton's run to the finals in 2006. "And not just make the playoffs, but we want to go far. The ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup - that's what we're thinking. So if they (the fans) can get that in their heads, it will be more exciting for them along the way."

Michael Peca and Torres came in on a 2-on-1 against defenseman Shea Weber, and Peca's shot resulted in a short rebound. Torres jammed the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne with a backhander at 4:05 for his fourth goal in six games.

"He scores big goals all the time," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's had a huge impact on a lot of games in the last month."

R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who now have 88 points.

"We approached this as the biggest game of the year," Umberger said. "We set ourselves up the first two periods. The third period, we said, 'This is the biggest period right here. We've got to find a way to win this.' We outplayed them. And we can't let it slip."

The Blue Jackets had lost two in a row, both to St. Louis, watching several pursuers draw closer in what had seemed a somewhat comfortable lead in the playoff race.

"This was a huge two points to kind of create a little breathing room," said Mason, who had 21 saves.

Cal O'Reilly gave the Predators, who had won three in a row, a lead midway through the first period. Rinne was brilliant on many of his 31 stops.

"We've just got to fight for points," coach Barry Trotz said. "I wish we would have been able to get a point. It's not necessarily about winning or losing, it's about getting points. Because you never know what point may get you in or may keep you out."

Each team has five games left, with Nashville hosting the Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

"We're going into their building for the next game," Mason said. "We have to be prepared. We can't sit tight with this one."

At Sunrise, Fla., Richard Zednik and Bryan McCabe scored power-play goals late in the second period to lead the Panthers.

Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss also scored for Florida, which won its third straight. Michael Frolik added an empty-net goal with 1:32 left.

Chris Kelly and Chris Campoli both scored for the Senators, who were eliminated from playoff contention.

Craig Anderson, making his third straight start for Florida in place of Tomas Vokoun, stopped 30 shots.

At Montreal, Alex Kovalev scored for a fourth straight game 25 seconds in and assisted on Andrei Markov's power-play goal for the Canadiens.

Carey Price came within 7:42 of recording his first shutout in over four months before allowing Patrick Sharp's 26th goal.

Guillaume Latendresse and Mathieu Schneider also scored for Montreal, which remained in eighth place in the East.

At Boston, backup Manny Fernandez stopped 24 shots, and the Eastern-leading Bruins won their fourth straight.

Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew scored - becoming Boston's seventh and eighth 20-goal scorers this season. Zdeno Chara matched his career high with his 17th goal and added an assist.

Mike McKenna made 36 saves for the Lightning, who have lost seven of eight.

Steven Stamkos scored his 20th goal with 7:53 left to spoil Fernandez's shutout bid.

At St. Paul, Minn., Henrik Sedin scored 4 minutes into overtime and Roberto Luongo stopped 33 shots, lifting Vancouver into first place in the Northwest Division.

Former Wild forward Pavol Demitra scored Vancouver's regulation goal late in the second period, and Marian Gaborik tied it at 5:14 of the third for the Wild.

The Canucks didn't have a shot on goal in the third period, the first time Minnesota did that to an opponent since Oct. 29, 2000.

At Los Angeles, Brendan Morrison scored two power-play goals, Marty Turco stopped 26 shots, and Dallas snapped a seven-game losing streak.

Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar scored for the Kings.

Dallas' skid was three games short of the franchise record. The Stars haven't lost eight in a row since Nov. 11-29, 1978, when the franchise was in Minnesota.

At Edmonton, Alberta, Scott Niedermayer had a goal and two assists, and Anaheim jumped above the postseason cutoff line.

Rob Niedermayer had a pair of goals, and Sheldon Brookbank and Chris Pronger also scored for the Ducks, who have won seven of eight to move into seventh place in the tight West race. The Ducks and Nashville both have 84 points.

Andrew Cogliano, Denis Grebeshkov and Zack Stortini scored for the Oilers.

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