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Blue Jackets edge Sharks to continue playoff push

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- Desperation brought out the best again in the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ryan Johansen scored with just 1:37 left to play, lifting the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 victory Sunday against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion.

"Every game is do-or-die it feels like," Johansen said. "We know there's a couple teams with games in hand on us, especially that are in the point race with us. Really, it feels like we have to win every game, and our focus is just one game at a time."

Mark Letestu scored a career-high, tying two goals and had a career-high three points for the Blue Jackets, who moved three points ahead of the ninth-place Detroit Red Wings in their playoff push in the Western Conference. Columbus has just two games remaining, while Detroit has four and Minnesota (51 points) has three.

Joe Pavelski had pulled the Sharks even with a power-play goal at 14:57 of the third, but he turned the puck over deep in San Jose's zone, and Johansen made the Sharks pay, beating goaltender Antti Niemi for the game-winner.

"I was licking my chops," Johansen said. "That was for sure. I just found a hole there. It was nice to be in the middle of the ice. It's a great shooting area. I was just lucky to beat Niemi on the shot. I felt like it was good scoring chance right away. This is the biggest goal I've scored in my career so far. It's a great feeling."

The Sharks could have secured their ninth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with one point Sunday, but will have to wait for another chance. They remained in fifth place with 55 points, two behind the Los Angeles Kings and one ahead of the St. Louis Blues.

"It was right there for us obviously," Pavelski said. "It’s tough. You never want to make a play like that at the end. You understand where you are in the game and you understand these things do happen once in a while. It’s tough when they do, but we have to move on and get better from this and I have to try to execute better next time."

The Sharks had 17 giveaways to just six for Columbus.

"Pressuring. That's one thing we've done well," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "In Anaheim we did the same thing. Our forecheck is a strength of ours. If we're forechecking hard and we're after pucks using our speed and our size, that's playing to our strengths, and we were able to do that. And turnovers in this game -- whether it's them, whether it's us or whether it's another game in the League -- are huge. Getting back to our start, when we were 5-12, we were the team on the other side of that. We were turning the puck over too much, and it was ending up in the back of our net."

Vinny Prospal also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 saves.

Martin Havlat and Andrew Desjardins also scored for the Sharks, while Niemi stopped 18 of 22 shots.

The Blue Jackets beat the Sharks for the third straight time this season, but the first time at HP Pavilion. The Blue Jackets won at HP for just the third time in franchise history, improving to 3-17-2, but they had routed the Sharks 6-2 and 4-0 at Nationwide Arena this season. What's more, they had won five of their previous six games before facing the Sharks on Sunday.

"For whatever reason, sometimes you just match up well against other teams," Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said. "We've had a lot of success against Detroit, San Jose.

"Coming into this game we were really confident. We knew it was going to be a lot tougher coming here. They usually come out like gangbusters to start the game, but we were ready for it. This was a huge game for us. We couldn't let this slip away, racing Detroit for the last spot."

Letestu's power-play goal gave the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead at 12:42 of the second period. His goal snapped the Blue Jackets' 0-for-18 streak over eight games on the power play. They had gone 1-for-25 on the power play over their 13 previous games.

With Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin in the penalty box for interference, Letestu took a cross-ice pass from Fedor Tyutin at the left point. He ripped a one-timer through traffic -- Columbus forward Marian Gaborik and Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart were battling in front of the net -- that got past Niemi.

"It was the biggest game of the year for us tonight," Letestu said. "But the next one in Dallas (on Thursday) is even bigger. We need to put a strangle hold on that eighth spot. One of those nights my shots went in. They were through the five-hole and (Niemi) would like to have them back, I guess."

The Blue Jackets took a two-goal lead into the third period, but Desjardins made it 3-2 on his second goal of the season at 6:34.

Irwin flipped a outlet pass along the right boards. Desjardin caught up to the puck, got past Johnson near the blue line and kept going. He put on the brakes at the right circle as Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout went by, cut to the middle and put the puck past Bobrovsky.

The Sharks outshot Columbus 13-7 in the first period and had the only power play, but they had giveaways to four for the Blue Jackets and trailed 1-0 at the first intermission.

Columbus took a 1-0 lead at 16:53 of the first period on Letestu's 11th goal of the season, with the assists going to Johnson and Prospal.

Prospal sent a long outlet pass to Johnson, who streaked down the left side as a hard-charging Letestu got a half step in front of Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic down the middle. Prospal fired a pass from the left circle, and Lestestu beat Niemi from the slot.

The Blue Jackets grabbed a 1-0 lead against San Jose for the third time this season. In the previous two, they extended their lead to 3-0 in the second and cruised to victories at Columbus, outscoring the Sharks a combined 10-2.

Columbus made it 2-0 at 4:27 of the second when Prospal scored on a breakaway. Stuart turned the puck over in the neutral zone on a pass along the boards that went to Letestu, who immediately hit Prospal, streaking the other way with a clear path to Niemi. Prospal beat Niemi with a shot to the stick side for his 12th goal of the season.

"I’m disappointed with the start," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I listen to coaches stand in this spot after every game around the League and they’re trying to get their teams playing the right way heading in. We’ve got that going. We can’t let that slip. I didn’t feel like we brought a lot of energy to the game. I don’t think we managed the puck very well and the game very well tonight.

"Didn’t win a lot of faceoffs early, extended shifts, got a little bit selfish, turned pucks over in some bad areas. Had plenty of offense. Offense was not the problem one bit tonight, not one bit. It was the defensive part and the puck management, game management."

The Sharks cut Columbus' lead to 2-1 at 7:14 of the second when Havlat scored his eighth goal of the season and third in two games. Logan Couture whipped a pass from below the goal line to Havlat, who beat Bobrovsky from the slot.

The Blue Jackets played without injured left wing Matt Calvert, who broke a finger Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings. Blake Comeau moved up from the fourth line to take Calvert's spot and skate with Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson. Forward Colton Gilles returned to the lineup after missing five straight games as a healthy scratch.

Defenseman Nikita Nikitin (lower body) missed his second straight game and forward Arlem Anisimov (upper body) his fourth straight.

Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, who missed practice Saturday, was out of the lineup. Veteran Scott Hannan replaced Demers.

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