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Blue Jackets top Stars, clinch playoff berth

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets clinched their second-ever berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center.

"It's a great feeling," Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky said. "You play this game for the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup, and we've made the first step towards doing that. Only 16 teams make the dance, and we're one of those."

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves for the Blue Jackets (42-31-7, 91 points), who last made the playoffs in 2009. Columbus and the Philadelphia Flyers each have 91 points, but the Flyers have a game in hand in the race for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

"To me it's just the first step," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "When we set out back in September, the first thing we talked about was winning the Stanley Cup, but you got to make the playoffs. So this is just the first step, and what we need to do now is enjoy it. To me it's always about looking up. We put ourselves in a position right now where we're even with Detroit but we're ahead of them. We're in the seventh spot. We're going to try to move up."

The game Wednesday began with the Blue Jackets leading 1-0. Nathan Horton's goal was carried over from the March 10 game that was postponed when Stars center Rich Peverley collapsed on the Dallas bench due to a cardiac event.

"Well, the only thing that was weird about it was looking up at the scoreboard in warm-ups and we had a 1-0 lead," Richards said. "That'll be something that I remember. I had to remind myself when we scored the first goal that we were up 2-0, not just 1-0."

Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu added goals in a full 20-minute first period Wednesday night to give the Blue Jackets a 3-0 lead heading into the second period.

"That's a tough way to start a game," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We knew we were going to have to manage our ice time and our play, and that was a tough start."

Columbus maintained its three-goal advantage until Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley scored a power-play goal at 8:39 of the third period. The Stars had an extra attacker on the ice after goalie Tim Thomas left the ice at 7:39 after the Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson was sent to the penalty box for hooking at 6:50.

"I just felt it was time to create some energy, create some desperation," Ruff said of pulling Thomas for the power play with more than 12 minutes left. "I thought we got the energy. We got a couple great looks afterwards and we put a little into them and made believers out of the players that last 10 minutes, where probably five of it we played without a goaltender."

The Stars remained two points ahead of the idle Phoenix Coyotes for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

"We wanted to leave it all out there," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "We've been playing a lot of hockey. We didn't get the result we wanted, but we've still got two games left here, and it's still up to us."

The Blue Jackets doubled their game-opening advantage when Anisimov collected a free puck on the edge of the right circle, skated around Thomas and slipped the puck into the far side of the net for his 22nd goal and a 2-0 Columbus lead.

The Blue Jackets went on a four-minute power play at 9:43 of the first after Stars center Shawn Horcoff was called for high sticking on a play that left a cut on Jarred Boll's nose. Letestu scored his 11th goal at 13:27 with 16 seconds remaining in the extended man advantage for a 3-0 Columbus lead.

Letestu scored on a shot that deflected off Thomas' stick and then went through the goalie's five-hole.

The Stars began the second period on the power play after Letestu was called for delay of game after he shot the puck over the boards with six seconds left in the first, but Dallas was unable to convert on its second man-advantage opportunity of the game.

Through 40 minutes the Blue Jackets were outshooting the Stars 23-16, but Dallas outshot Columbus 34-25 for the game.

After allowing two goals in the first period, Thomas finished strong, stopping the final 13 shots he faced before leaving the ice for a good part of the final period.

"The first period, I fought off some rebounds. But I think as the game went on, I settled in," Thomas said.

Dallas began the third period on the power play after Columbus' James Wisniewski was called for interference at the end of the second, but the Stars couldn't convert with the man advantage. Dallas finished 1-for-4 on the power play.

Thomas, who stopped 22 shots, left the ice for a second time, with 2:45 remaining in the third. However, Dallas was unable to score again despite peppering Bobrovsky, who made several big saves in the final two minutes, including a stop on Tyler Seguin at close range with 1:25 remaining.

"I don't think there's much you can say about [Bobrovsky]," Boll said. "He's been unbelievable since he got here. He's a great guy to have on this team. He's a great guy to follow, great leader for us. We'll keep riding him as long as he can."

For Boll, who was also part of Columbus' only other playoff team, just making it to the postseason won't suffice this time.

"Obviously, this franchise never had a playoff win yet (the Detroit Red Wings swept Columbus in the 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals). It's fun right now to say we clinched, but we can't be satisfied with just getting in," Boll said. "We want to get there and make a splash."

Horton, credited for the first Columbus goal, did not play Wednesday due to a lower-body injury.

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