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Hawks edge Jackets on Versteeg OT tally

by Brian Hunter
The two goaltenders and their respective defenses were in postseason form. And thanks to Kris Versteeg, the Chicago Blackhawks are a step closer to locking up home ice for the first round.

Versteeg took an Andrew Ladd pass and beat Steve Mason on a breakaway with 1:50 remaining in overtime Sunday for a 1-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, the first game of a home-and-home series.

Nikolai Khabibulin stopped all 20 shots he faced to outduel Mason, who leads the NHL with 10 shutouts in his rookie season. The Blackhawks, who clinched their first playoff berth in seven years on Saturday, now have 97 points and hold down fourth place in the Western Conference by three over Vancouver.

"It was hard-hitting, not much room for anything out there," Versteeg said. "There's no room in the slot areas on both teams -- both teams, really, it seemed like they wanted that last point."

The Blue Jackets, seeking their first playoff berth in their eighth season in the League, lost in overtime for the second straight day and fourth time in seven games (2-1-4). They are sixth in the West with 90 points, four points ahead of ninth-place St. Louis.

"All of us were playing our hearts out tonight," forward R.J. Umberger said. "We know how important this is and I think we were just a step off."

Mason made 24 saves, including a big stop on Versteeg in overtime, but the personal battle among the Calder Trophy candidates went in favor of the Blackhawks forward, as he picked up his 22nd goal of the season.

"You can't really see much going in on that goalie," Versteeg said. "I was going five-hole and I guess I got lucky and it bounced in. Coming down against a guy like Mason I guess all you can do is shoot and pray to God it goes into the net."

Chicago won for the third straight game, but for the first time in six tries on the road.

"What a hockey game," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Both teams played hard, the pace was incredible. I don't know how many times we had five or six minutes of play without faceoffs or stoppages."

Khabibulin registered his 40th career shutout, shutting the door on a Kris Russell breakaway earlier in overtime and making a big save midway through the third period on a redirection by Jiri Novotny.

"We had that shift in the third where we were all over them and they come down and Khabby made a toe save," Quenneville said. "He kept us in the game at critical times."

Mason did all he could to keep pace, denying Colin Fraser on a great opportunity from the slot during the opening period.

The Blue Jackets will travel to Chicago for the second half of the home-and-home on Wednesday, then play in St. Louis on Friday and return home to close out the regular season against Minnesota on Saturday.

"This is what it is -- this is what it takes for non-established teams like us trying to establish a territory in the League, this is what it takes to get in," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's one hell of a price to pay to get in. We're trying to get in, we're trying to pay the price, we're trying to teach guys how high the price is, and we're getting a lot of on-the-job training right now.

"That's what impressed me today, is we really wanted to win this game badly and we acted accordingly. We weren't waiting on anything, we played off of back-to-back with a real good team sitting here waiting. We played as hard as we could play, and we wanted it badly. We wanted to win this hockey game really badly. And then we'll get a rest and we're going to have to do it again, and that's what playoffs are."

Sharks 3, Ducks 2
| Video

Jonathan Cheechoo's power-play deflection of a Christian Ehrhoff shot with 6:41 left in the third period snapped a tie, helping San Jose edge Anaheim at Honda Center on Sunday and set a franchise record with their 52nd win of the season.

Jeremy Roenick had a rare goal and Joe Pavelski also scored on the power play for the Sharks, who got 19 saves from backup goaltender Brian Boucher and maintained a six-point lead over Detroit for the conference's top seed.

"We'll see. Hopefully, we hang on to that top spot," Roenick said.

The Ducks got a pair of specialty-team goals, with Petteri Nokelainen opening the scoring shorthanded in the first and Corey Perry adding a power-play marker. Jonas Hiller turned aside 23 shots, but Anaheim missed a chance to sweep the season series against the Sharks while remaining in seventh place with 88 points, two more than Nashville and St. Louis.

"We've been playing playoff hockey for the last couple of weeks, so it's nice that we get a little bit of a break before our last two games -- especially this late in the season," Perry said. "It's been a long haul, but we're in a great position to be where we are. But we have to prove that we belong there."

Drew Miller and Chris Pronger took minor penalties a minute apart in the third to set up the Sharks' go-ahead goal. The Ducks killed off the 5-on-3 disadvantage, but with 22 seconds still remaining on Pronger's delay of game call for clearing the puck over the glass, Ehrhoff's long slap shot caromed off Cheechoo and into the net past Hiller.

"It kind of came off and hit the Ducks defenseman right beside me," Cheechoo said. "It came to me and went right in, so it was nice to help the team out like that."

Anaheim pulled Hiller in the final minute and stormed the net looking for the tying goal, but Roenick lifted the stick of Ryan Getzlaf before he could get a shot off in front. The game ended with Getzlaf barreling into Boucher, setting off a scrum that resulted in 64 penalty minutes being handed out between the two sides.

"They were just trying to score, they kept trying to get it up to the top and get Pronger or (Ryan) Whitney to get a shot off, they both have tremendous shots from up there," Cheechoo said. "It was just something where we wanted to get in the lanes, try to get in the way of as many pucks and try to force them to try to make plays."

Nokelainen made the first big play of the game with San Jose on an early power play. He gained control of the puck after Marc-Edouard Vlasic blocked Scott Niedermayer's clearing attempt, skated in on a breakaway and shot five-hole on Boucher, who ended up in the net along with the puck at the 5:38 mark.

Roenick tied the score early in the second with his fourth of the season and 513th of his career, moving him past Gilbert Perreault for 36th on the all-time list. Joe Thornton's pass from the left corner set Roenick up for a one-timer past Hiller and his first goal in four months.

"When you're playing with Joe, he finds you wherever you are. The guy's amazing," Roenick said. "We talked after the first period about being in that spot. I wasn't in that spot in the first period a couple of times, so he couldn't get the puck to me. So we adjusted in the second and I went to the net."

Perry put the Ducks back in front at 11:31 when Vlasic couldn't clear a bouncing puck and he whipped a shot into the net for his team-high 31st goal, but Anaheim's lead was short-lived. Pavelski answered with the Sharks on a man advantage and 4:44 left in the period.

Avalanche 4, Canucks 1 | Video

Rookie T.J. Galiardi scored twice and Milan Hejduk contributed a goal and two assists as Colorado snapped an eight-game skid and prevented Vancouver from taking over the lead in the Northwest Division.

Ben Guite also had a goal, Darcy Tucker added a pair of assists and Peter Budaj came within five minutes of a shutout, finishing with 19 saves.

"We lost eight in a row so I guess we were due to win something," Hejduk said. "Finally tonight we played a really solid 60 minutes and came up with two points."

Pavol Demitra scored with 4:38 left to keep the Canucks from being blanked, but they lost in regulation at General Motors Place for the first time since the end of January. Vancouver and Calgary each have 94 points, but the Flames have two more victories and also hold a game in hand.

"My dad is a big Calgary fan and he was saying, 'Get the win for them,' because obviously Vancouver is on their tail," Galiardi said. "It's kind of funny how it worked out that way."

Playing his seventh NHL game, Galiardi opened the scoring 7:32 into the first with his second career goal. During a delayed penalty call to the Canucks, he took advantage of defensemen Shane O'Brien and Kevin Bieksa running into each other along the side boards and one-timed a feed by Hejduk past goaltender Roberto Luongo.

"In everybody's mind, this was a game that would put us one step closer to a championship in our division and possibly home ice," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "We didn't play very well. They played a strong game defensively and they were the better team tonight."

Guite made it 2-0 when he got off a quick shot from the left faceoff circle that snuck between the legs of Willie Mitchell and Luongo at 7:44 of the second, and the Canucks put the game away by adding two more in the third.

Hejduk scored unassisted at 4:59 after Alexander Edler gave the puck away in front of Luongo, and he set up Galiardi's second of the night with 7:56 remaining, a shot from a sharp angle. All three of Galiardi's goals this season have come against Vancouver.

"We've heard how he's been progressing all year and we've looked forward to giving him the opportunity to play, and he's taken advantage of it," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "He's got a lot of energy, he's a very smart player, he's a guy that wants to be here. He's played well. He's a good, solid player and he's got a bright future in this game."

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

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