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Blue Jackets snap Blues' winning, shutout streaks

by Louie Korac

COLUMBUS -- A desperate Columbus Blue Jackets team trying to stay in the playoff hunt was able to cool off the red-hot St. Louis Blues.

It's playoff hockey for a franchise reconnecting with its fan base.

Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and the Blue Jackets made it 11 wins in their past 15 home games [11-1-3] as they pulled within two points of the Detroit Red Wings for the eighth spot in the Western Conference by beating the Blues 4-1 on Friday night at Nationwide Arena.

The Blue Jackets (18-16-7) also got goals from Artem Anisimov, Ryan Johansen and Marian Gaborik, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 31 shots. Columbus now has 43 points -- two behind the Red Wings, who lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blue Jackets embark on a six-game trip beginning against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday before ending the season here on the final day of the regular season.

"There were lots of things about this game that reminded me of playoff hockey," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "... To me, it was the speed, it was the intensity. I think the environment ... just our building in general because the crowd [17,007] was into it too. It had some nastiness to it. For me, it was a great hockey game, an enjoyable game."

The Blue Jackets spoiled former coach Ken Hitchcock's bid for his 600th career victory.

"Obviously you're able to enjoy this more because you come up with two points," Richards said.

Added Atkinson: "We knew we needed to play a full 60 minutes. We're fighting for that last spot in the playoffs. They're a big team that can play, and we matched that intensity pretty well and got the job done."

The Blues (23-15-2), who had a chance to jump into fourth place in the Western Conference with a win, saw their season-high six-game winning streak snapped. Kevin Shattenkirk scored St. Louis' lone goal and rookie Jake Allen, giving red-hot Brian Elliott a breather after three consecutive shutouts, stopped 15 shots.

The Blues had allowed only five goals in their six-game winning streak and had won 10 of the past 12 against the Blue Jackets, including 3-1 at Scottrade Center a week ago. But St. Louis, despite its winning streak, had scored only five goals in its past four games.

"You can't be disappointed, but we'd like to have a better effort tonight," Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out that way. As professionals that we are, we've got to come out ready to play here on Sunday."

The Blues, who beat the Wild 2-0 in St. Paul on Thursday night, had good jump early and got the scoring started 1:26 into the game when Shattenkirk's seeing-eye shot from the blue line and found its way past a screened Bobrovsky. Vladimir Tarasenko was in the slot obstructing the view of the Columbus goalie and may have prevented him from seeing the puck, which caromed off the far post and into the net.

"It was a good play by Andy [McDonald] on the wall there being patient," Shattenkirk said. "Once I had it, I knew my only play was to the net. Sometimes those go in. I think when we have good screens, getting pucks to the net is what works. Whether it's on the ice, whether it's soft, whether it's hard, it's the right play."

Bobrovsky made some key stops in the early going to keep it 1-0 before the Blue Jackets got the equalizer when a failed clearing attempt came to defenseman Adrian Aucoin at the right point. Aucoin's shot was double-deflected past Allen by Atkinson with 5:28 left in the opening period.

"I thought it was a fluky goal, but we're a team that doesn't back down," Atkinson said. "We came right back at them, tied it up and finished the game off with a win."

The Blues were able to establish a franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes at 215:56. The previous record was 201:32 set from March 21-29, 2012. The Blues also needed 6:47 into the game to break the all-time road shutout mark of 196:15 set Dec. 14-Jan. 3, 1968-69. Atkinson's goal ended that mark at 204:01.

The Blue Jackets took control of the game in the middle period, with Anisimov and Johansen scoring in a 4:26 span late in the period.

Anisimov knocked Brandon Dubinsky's backhand centering feed past Allen with 5:40 left in the period. It marked the first time the Blues trailed in a game since Chicago's Brandon Saad gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead in the second period of a game April 4.

Johansen banged a deflected puck into an empty right side of the net with 84 seconds left in the period after James Wisniewski, playing in his 400th career game, fired a shot from the left point that was tipped by Nick Foligno.

Gaborik netted his third goal and sixth point in five games since the Blue Jackets acquired him from the New York Rangers on April 3 when he redirected a Mark Letestu feed in the low slot over a sprawled Allen 1:21 into the third period to give Columbus a three-goal lead.

It marked the third goal of the game that the Blue Jackets scored from around the net, and Hitchcock said was the difference in the game.

"I just don't think we're going in for the second and third opportunities," Hitchcock said. "We've got away with it before, but tonight we didn't.

"They scored three goals and they went into the hard areas. We weren't able to do that today. ... You learn, you move on. We get ready for the next game."

Said Letestu: "It's usually always the plan -- get traffic and get bodies there. There was an extra concentration on that tonight because they hadn't given any up on the last three [games]. We knew there would have to be some dirty goals. For us to get four on them, it's something to be proud of. And the way we did it, it's something we can look back on in the future."

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