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Blue Jackets hand Canucks fifth straight loss

by Brian Compton
How bad are things going for the Vancouver Canucks?

Well, on Sunday night, not even a two-goal lead with Roberto Luongo between the pipes was enough to gain a victory. Because of that, the Canucks made history -- the dubious kind.

After erasing a 3-1 deficit and then blowing a 5-3 lead, Jason Williams and Rick Nash beat Luongo in the shootout, as the surging Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 6-5 win at GM Place. It was the Blue Jackets' eighth victory in their last 11 games as they strive to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

"If we just keep playing this way and if we keep battling like we're showing right now, we're going to win our share of hockey games and hopefully be there right at the end," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are reeling. Sunday's loss was their seventh straight at home -- breaking a record that was first set in 1971 and matched in 1978. Vancouver has also seen its overall skid extended to five games.

To make matters worse, the Canucks lost forward Pavol Demitra to a groin injury in the second period. He did not return.

''Momentum is a funny thing,'' Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. ''I really liked the way we played there for 35 minutes. For a period there of 6 minutes we gave them a few chances and they scored four goals.''

After Taylor Pyatt and Manny Malhotra exchanged goals in the first period, Mats Sundin put the Canucks in front at 3:14 of the second with his second tally since joining the club. Steve Bernier increased Vancouver's lead to 3-1 when he beat Calder Trophy candidate Steve Mason (25 saves) at 12:25.

But Jason Williams cut the deficit in half with a power-play goal at 17:04, and Nash -- who missed the previous four games with a knee injury -- tied things up with his 18th goal of the season at 18:57.

"I was good enough to go, and that's all that counts," said Nash, who also had two assists. "I had a lot of energy since I had a week off. I felt pretty good tonight."

Columbus would score two more unanswered goals in a 55-second span to take a 5-3 lead. Mike Commodore notched his fourth of the season 1:16 into the third before Raffi Torres put the Blue Jackets up by a pair with his second of the campaign.
Making just his second appearance after missing nearly two months with a groin injury, Luongo struggled against the Blue Jackets. He finished with 23 saves.

''Obviously, we all know Roberto can play better,'' Vigneault said. ''He's a key ingredient to the success of our team.''

Luongo's teammates nearly bailed their captain out. Henrik Sedin made it 5-4 at 4:37 on a power-play tally, and just 90 seconds later Kevin Bieksa tied the game to send the home crowd into a frenzy.

"It was really a bizarre game," Hitchcock said. "We had no legs today and we were struggling. We're really grateful we got the two points. Mase held us in there when it was 5-5. Coaches get into the scouting business when you see games like this."

In the shootout, it was all Columbus. After Mason stopped Kyle Wellwood to begin the competition, Williams immediately beat Luongo with a backhand to put the Blue Jackets in front. Nash then sealed the victory after Sundin fired wide.

''There's a reason he's the captain,'' Williams said. ''He's not the most vocal guy, but he leads by example and his work ethic and he did both tonight.''

With the loss, Vancouver fell to 1-6 in shootouts this season. The Canucks have won only twice in their last 10 games. Columbus, however, is on the other side of the spectrum. The Blue Jackets have won four of five and are now just two points behind Vancouver for the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

"We're not really used to it," Nash said of the playoff push. "Everyone's excited and has a lot of energy every night. It's amazing when you have a chance to win every night how much more fun it is."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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