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Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Vancouver Canucks 4 FINAL

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Russian teenager Nikolai Zherdev doesn't speak English, so he let his play do the talking.

Zherdev scored his second goal of the third period with 1:55 remaining, rallying the Columbus Blue Jackets from a two-goal deficit to beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Sunday night.

Zherdev, a 19-year-old playing his 50th NHL game after coming to Columbus from Russia amid secrecy and controversy in early December, added two assists for a career-high four points.

``It was the best game I played in the NHL and I think there's a couple more coming,'' Zherdev said through translator, teammate, and fellow Russian Alexander Svitov.

Until recently, Zherdev wondered if those games would be coming in the NHL. He fled Russia to join the Blue Jackets, who picked him fourth overall in the 2003 draft. But his club team in Russia, CSKA Moscow, claimed he was still under contract and obligated to serve in the military.

Zherdev didn't find out he could stay in the NHL until March 4, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled CSKA violated international hockey rules by trying to keep him in Russia.

``Everything took off pressure from me and I can play well after that,'' Zherdev said. ``I was thinking too much that probably I would sit out all season, and now I can play and that's relaxing.''

Fellow Russian Artem Chubarov scored in the final minute of the second period and 2:41 into the third to give the Canucks a 4-2 lead. But Zherdev closed the gap with a wraparound that bounced in off a Vancouver defenseman.

Zherdev drew a tripping penalty against Ed Jovanovski five minutes later and Todd Marchant tied it on a power-play rebound of Zherdev's shot with 4:47 left.

``We have no idea what this kid has been through,'' Marchant said. ``None of us can even compare to having to leave the country that was trying to keep you and all that went on. It just goes to show you he's very mature for his age.''

Zherdev completed the comeback by snapping a shot through the legs of Sami Salo and past goalie Johan Hedberg high on the stick side.

``We've seen in practice some of the plays he makes and it's eye-opening,'' Marchant added. ``The last 15 games or so he's really started to come on and started to play better, and tonight's an example of how dominant a player he can be.''

Rick Nash, also just 19 years old, scored his 38th goal of the season, and Brian Holzinger also scored _ on Zherdev's pretty pass from behind the net _ as the Blue Jackets snapped an eight-game losing streak.

Marc Denis made 27 saves for Columbus, which won for just the sixth time all season on the road.

``It's a huge relief, it's been a long time since we won,'' said Columbus coach Gerard Gallant.

Brendan Morrison and Henrik Sedin also scored for the Canucks, 1-3-2-1 since star forward Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season and playoffs for sucker-punching Colorado's Steve Moore.

Canucks defenseman Ed Jovanovski, playing his first game after missing almost two months with a separated right shoulder, said the team might still be a little fragile after losing Bertuzzi.

``We could be in ways, but it shouldn't be an excuse, Jovanovski said after setting up Vancouver s first two goals.

Jovanovski, who missed 25 games, set up Morrison for a one-timer from the right circle that goalie Marc Denis played off his stick and into his net just 2:16 into the game. He was credited with the second assist when Henrik Sedin, also returning after missing five of the last six games with a rib muscle injury, scored just 83 seconds later.

Holzinger connected just 1:22 later after some nice moves by Zherdev behind the Vancouver net. Nash tied it with a brilliant individual effort in the second period, pouncing on a Vancouver turnover at the Blue Jackets' blue line and racing through the neutral zone. He turned Canucks defenseman Bryan Allen with an outside-in move, then snapped a wrist shot past Hedberg.

Hedberg, making his second straight start since No. 1 goalie Dan Cloutier hurt his hip flexor, gave up five goals on just 23 shots after being pulled midway through the last game.

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