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Blue Jackets 3, Canucks 2 @NHL

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock left Nikolai Zherdev in the press box three games ago. He wasn't going to leave him on the bench in a shootout.

Given a chance at redemption, the struggling forward bounced back from his Jan. 19 benching and scored the winning goal of the shootout Tuesday night. His shot bounced off Roberto Luongo's glove and gave the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

"He's going to score on a shootout 70 percent of the time, he's so skilled and he's so patient with the puck," Hitchcock said.

After Brendan Morrison and David Vyborny traded shootout goals, Ty Conklin stopped Josh Green in the third round, giving Zherdev the chance to win it.

He did exactly that, but Hitchcock praised Zherdev more for his all-around performance. Zherdev is fighting a flu bug that kept him out of the Blue Jackets previous game on Saturday and forced him to leave Monday's practice early.

"I thought he played well, competed hard," Hitchcock said. "That's the better sign for me."

That's a big step for Zherdev, who threatened to stay in Russia this season before signing a three-year, $7.5-million contract with Columbus. But he had just seven goals, 20 points and a minus-17 rating before being left out of the lineup before the All-Star break.

"If he plays like this every night we're going to very pleased and that's kind of the message we want to send him and I think he's taking it the right way," Hitchcock said.

Dan Fritsche and Anson Carter scored in regulation, and Conklin made 35 saves overall as Columbus won its fourth straight against a quality opponent.

"We're showing a lot of mental toughness, we're not giving up too many odd-man rushes and we're getting solid goaltending," Carter said. "When you put those things together, more often than not you should come out with a victory."

Coming off wins over Detroit, Buffalo and Minnesota, Carter opened the scoring just 18 seconds in. Carter, who scored 33 goals for Vancouver last season, jammed his 200th NHL goal past Luongo from close range.

"It's a great milestone but I think even more importantly it was a big victory for us starting off a three-game road trip," Carter said.

Daniel Sedin and Sami Salo scored power-play goals, and Luongo made 26 saves for the Canucks, who lost for the fourth time in 15 games since falling to Columbus on Dec. 22. Three of the losses were in overtime or a shootout, as Vancouver stayed tied with Calgary atop the Northwest Division.

Sedin tied it on a power-play rebound 13:51 in, but Fritsche scored for the fourth straight game to restore the lead on a man advantage two minutes later. The goal also ended a string of 34 straight penalty kills over six games for Vancouver's top-ranked unit.

Fritsche's first attempt, after driving hard to the net out of the corner, was almost shot into the Vancouver net by Canucks forward Marc Chouinard. Luongo did well just to stop his teammate before scrambling to knock the puck off the goal line - only to swat it back to Fritsche alone at the top of the crease for an easy goal.

"They were crashing the net all night, that was part of their game plan," Luongo said. "They got a couple lucky goals in the first period and after that we did a pretty good job."

Salo tied it again midway through the second period on a one-timer from the right point that went through Taylor Pyatt's screen and beat Conklin low stick side.

Conklin, starting just his third NHL game of the season because Pascal Leclaire (knee) and Fredrik Norrena (groin) are injured, had to be sharp early. He stopped Jan Bulis twice on good chances and Salo on a close blast in the first period.

"It was nice because you get a little confidence, you feel better about yourself, especially shaking off the rust," Conklin said. "It's always nice to get going right away. But we played well, I wasn't forced to make more than a handful of second saves and the ones I did were pretty routine."

Notes: Columbus improved to 16-1-4 when scoring first. Luongo was the first star in his previous five starts. ... Columbus D Rostislav Klesla, who was picked fourth overall in the 2000 draft, played his 300th NHL game. ... Vancouver was 11-1-2 between losses to Columbus on Dec. 22 and Tuesday despite failing to outshoot any opponent. The Canucks held a 37-28 shots advantage.

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