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Blue Jackets win, are top Eastern wild card

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Columbus Blue Jackets will head into the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a winning note.

Ryan Johansen's power-play goal at 5:58 of the third period gave the Blue Jackets a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at BB&T?Center on Saturday.

The victory clinched the first Eastern Conference wild card for the Blue Jackets, who will face the Metropolitan Division champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

"The relief is that we got through the game healthy,"???Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "It was a tough stretch that we just went through, like 15 [games] in 24 days. When that happens, fatigue sets in and usually brains start not functioning in the right way, but we found a way to win the game."

Columbus ended the regular season with a team-record 93 points and owns the wild-card tiebreaker against the Detroit Red Wings, who have 91 points and close their season against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon. As the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, Detroit will face the Atlantic Division champion and Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

Earlier Saturday, the Blue Jackets' opportunity to finish third in the Metropolitan disappeared when the Philadelphia Flyers defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime.

Pittsburgh swept the season series against Columbus this season, winning five games in regulation.

"Just excited for the opportunity to play in the playoffs,"???Richards said. "That's something you have to earn and our players went and earned it this year. We've got the opportunity to play one of the premier teams in the League, a team that has talented players, they know how to win, they're well coached, and we get to go in their building. We're 0-5 against them and that's probably going to be discussed. I thought four out of the five were very good hockey games. I'm excited."

Johansen, the Blue Jackets' leading scorer, got his 33rd goal of the season with a one-timer from the side of the net. He mishit the feed from James Wisniewski, but the floater got by Luongo.

"When you get passes like that you really just have to hit the net,"???Johansen said. "All the credit to [Wisniewski], great vision hitting me down low there."

Cam Atkinson and Mark Letestu scored for Columbus (43-32-7), which clinched the second playoff berth in its history Wednesday (the Blue Jackets made the playoffs in 2008-09). Letestu scored for the fourth time in five games after a 22-game drought.

Johansen had an assist to finish the regular season with a six-game streak and 63 points. Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves in his 32nd win.

"We had a choice, if we wanted to win we'd play [Pittsburgh]; if we lost we'd play Boston,"???Atkinson said. "Half the guys wanted to play [Pittsburgh]. I think we owe them more than anything. It's good to get a win at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs."

Vincent Trocheck and Jimmy Hayes scored for the Panthers (29-45-8), who are out of the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons. Roberto Luongo made 35 saves.

Columbus defeated Florida for the eighth straight time, a streak that began with a 3-1 victory March 21, 2009. The Blue Jackets won 4-1 and 6-3 at Columbus this season.

Atkinson gave Columbus a 1-0 lead 47 seconds into this game when he redirected a pass from Brandon Dubinsky on a delayed penalty.

The Blue Jackets took 15 shots at Luongo in the first nine minutes and had a 16-3 advantage a little more than halfway through the first period.

"They really took it to us the first 10 minutes, but we settled down afterward,"???Luongo said. "I thought we played a pretty good game afterwards the rest of the way. Just came down to one break for them. They're the type of team that they're involved in a lot of those type of games and know how to win them."

The game turned after Florida captain Ed Jovanovski was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for elbowing Corey Tropp late in the first period.

Columbus managed two shots on goal during the five-minute power play, and Trocheck scored shorthanded on a breakaway to tie it with 1:01 left. It was Florida's fourth shorthanded goal in the past seven games, equaling the Panthers' total for its first 75 games.

"[Getting outshot 16-3], that's an eye-opener right there,"?????????Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "After that, we kind of picked back up a little bit. Getting that shorthanded goal there at the end was a huge momentum shift."

The teams traded goals in the second period, with Hayes scoring at 6:35 before Letestu tied the score with a power-play goal at 10:14. Florida outshot Columbus 17-6 in the second period and had a 9-0 advantage after Letestu's goal.

"I thought we got off to a great start, but there were a bunch of momentum swings throughout the game,"?????????Johansen said. "Give them credit, they played really hard tonight. I'm proud of the guys sticking with it and finally got two points."

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