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Jackets close in on playoffs by nipping Nashville 2-1

by John Kreiser
The Columbus Blue Jackets did something Tuesday night that was even harder than beating the Nashville Predators -- they made their coach happy.

Raffi Torres' goal 4:05 into the third period gave the Blue Jackets a 2-1 victory over the Predators, a team that has dominated them since the Jackets entered the NHL in 2000. The Jackets are 11-34-1 all-time against Nashville, which is 17-2-2 in the teams' last 21 meetings.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock was obviously pleased with the outcome of a game that solidified his team's hold on sixth place in the West and brought the Jackets two points closer to their first playoff berth. But he was even more pleased with the way they got the win after losing both ends of a home-and-home series with St. Louis last weekend.

"I was just happy with the way we played," he said. "I've been in these games before, where you miss opportunities and you hit goal posts and the goalie makes saves … (and you lose). I don't worry about the losses, I worry about the way we played. We played the right way. The win was a bonus. If you don't play the right way, you're not going to win.

"It was fun coaching. We played the right way. We were focused. I wasn't happy with the way we played the third period against St. Louis … but we're right back on task. We played the right way, we covered up for each other, and we put the puck in the right areas … we did a lot of really good things today."

Having a good luck charm like Torres doesn't hurt, either. Torres scored his 12th goal in 45 games this season when he jammed in the rebound of Michael Peca's shot on a 2-on-1 break. He's scored in 11 games -- and Columbus has won all 11.

"To be honest with you, I think it's a fluke," he chuckled during a postgame media session. "I didn't even know about it. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully we'll keep going."

Torres has five game-winners in the Jackets' last 10 victories.

"He scores big goals all the time," Hitchcock said. "He's had a huge impact on a lot of games in the last month."

Columbus now has 88 points, four more than Nashville and Anaheim, who share the last two playoff spots, and five ahead of ninth-place St. Louis. The Jackets and Preds meet again Saturday night in Nashville.

"We approached this as the biggest game of the year," said center R.J. Umberger, whose goal with 46 seconds left in the opening period tied the game at 1-1. "We set ourselves up the first two periods. The third period, we said, 'This is the biggest period right here. We've got to find a way to win this.' We outplayed them. And we can't let it slip."

Rookie Cal O'Reilly gave the Predators a lead when he beat Steve Mason 8:28 into the game.
"We've just got to fight for points," Preds coach Barry Trotz said. "I wish we would have been able to get a point. It's not necessarily about winning or losing, it's about getting points. Because you never know what point may get you in or may keep you out."

Nashville is trying to extend its playoff streak to five. It won't be easy -- the Predators learned before the game they'll be without forward Martin Erat for the rest of the season. He broke a leg in Sunday's win at Detroit.

"We have five games left. It makes it a little tougher not winning tonight's game but we are definitely in the thick of things and looking forward to our next challenge," forward Steve Sullivan said. "We don't have time to sulk and pout about this one we have to get ready for the next one. It's the position we put ourselves in and we are going to get ourselves out of it."

Ducks 5, Oilers 3 | Video

The Niedermayer brothers carried Anaheim back into the top eight in the West. Scott had a goal and two assists in the second period and Rob scored twice as the Ducks avenged a 5-3 loss to the Oilers at Anaheim last Friday.

That's the Ducks' only loss in their last eight games in a surge that has carried them back into a playoff spot. Anaheim and Nashville share the last two postseason berths -- the Ducks are seventh because they have 39 wins to 38 for the Predators -- and both are one point ahead of St. Louis, which has a game in hand.

"We're in a group of five teams that are competing and battling for two positions and we're just giving ourselves a chance to live another day and that's all you can do," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

The Ducks are playing their best hockey when it's needed most.

"We were not in the playoff picture for a while," Scott Niedermayer said. "We're just kind of focusing on playing well right now. We're just putting everything else aside, forgetting about the standings and things like that. Forget about who's doing what and just plugging away, and that's what we have to keep doing."

The Oilers are headed the wrong way; they're 10th with 81 points after losing for the fifth time in six games.

"There is still potential," coach Craig MacTavish said. "What we need right now is to simply focus on winning a game. When that happens things can turn around in a hurry."

The Oilers cut a 4-1 deficit to 4-3 on late goals 86 seconds apart by Denis Grebeshkov and Zach Stortini. But MacTavish lost a gamble right after Stortini scored with 2:11 left when he challenged the legality of the thickness of Teemu Selanne's stick -- and lost, incurring a bench minor. Rob Niedermayer hit the empty net to give the Ducks an insurance goal.

"We had really good, reliable info," a heartsick MacTavish said. "On visual, it looked like it wasn't even close. I was so sure that I made the call. It obviously was a terrible mistake. You have to be sure and I thought I had enough information.

"It's a terrible feeling for me to sabotage what looked like it was going to be a heck of a comeback."

Selanne said he had no doubt the stick was legal.

"I know it looks pretty wide," he said, "but I knew if they were going to measure it, it was going to be good. I wasn't nervous."

The Oilers dominated play early and took a 1-0 lead on Andrew Cogliano's power-play goal midway through the opening period. But they weren't able to extend their lead, and Anaheim's Sheldon Brookbank tied it about four minutes later with his first NHL goal.

Anaheim blew open a 1-1 tie in the second period thanks to its power play. The Ducks went ahead 33 seconds into the period when Scott Niedermayer finished off a three-way passing play by beating Dwayne Roloson on the glove side.

The Ducks made it 3-1 at 5:13 with another power-play goal when Chris Pronger scored on a shot from the point. Scott Niedermayer set up his brother for a blast from the top of the right circle at 18:36 to give Anaheim a three-goal lead.

"A lot of our guys played really well," Oilers captain Ethan Moreau said. "At this point in the season if there is anything you can grasp onto you do it. There were some positives, we got some help out of town and there are still 10 points available. I'd like to believe if we continue to play the style of hockey we did tonight that we will have some success in the last five games."

Canucks 2, Wild 1 (OT) | Video

The Canucks are heading back to Vancouver on top of the Northwest Division. Henrik Sedin's goal with 60 seconds left in overtime sent the Canucks home from a six-game trip one point ahead of Calgary -- and put another crimp in the Wild's postseason hopes.

"Back in January not many people thought we'd be in the spot we are, but we've worked hard for where we are," said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who finished with 33 saves and kept the Wild off the board during an overtime power play. "We need to make sure here in the last few games that we keep pushing and try to get that third seed."

Pavol Demitra's power-play goal at 18:58 of the second period opened the scoring, but the Wild tied it 5:14 into the third when Marian Gaborik scored. But Luongo preserved the tie with 10 saves as the Wild help Vancouver without a shot in the final 20 minutes -- the first time Minnesota had held an opponent without a shot in a period since Oct. 29, 2000.

Vancouver finally got a shot on Niklas Backstrom 3:30 into overtime, then won it when Henrik Sedin took a pass from twin brother Daniel and ripped a quick slap shot into the net.

The line consisting of the Sedins and Alex Burrows has totaled 19 goals and 41 points over Vancouver's last 11 games. The Sedin brothers' dominance has stood out down the stretch.

"The twins this past month when we've had 15 games to play have been our top production guys," Canucks coach Alex Vigneault said. "They've done it in pressure moments, and that's good for us with the playoffs around the corner."

The loss damaged Minnesota's slim playoff chances. Minnesota is 11th in the West with 80 points, four out of a playoff spot. The Wild probably needs to win all five of their remaining games and have a number of other things go right to make the playoffs.

"Everybody gave 100 percent and we couldn't come up with the two points," Wild forward Stephane Veilleux said. "That seventh and eighth playoff spot are tough to get, so not getting that extra point hurts."

One reason the Wild didn't gain ground was their failure to score on five power-play opportunities, including three in a row in the first and second periods and another late in the third period that carried into overtime.

"I felt that we didn't have enough on the power play," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "You just can't be waiting, waiting. You have to put the puck on net."

Stars 3, Kings 2 | Video

Brendan Morrison scored two power-play goals as the visiting Stars snapped a seven-game losing streak by holding off the Kings to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive.

The Stars are 12th in the West with 78 points, six out of a playoff spot with five games remaining. The Kings, 13th with 73 points, are officially out of postseason contention.

Morrison broke a 1-1 tie when he beat Jonathan Quick 1:55 with a one-timer into the second period, then gave the Stars a two-goal lead at 15:19 by beating Quick from the left circle. Mike Ribeiro scored a first-period goal for the Stars, who haven't lost eight in a row since Nov. 11-29, 1978, when the franchise was based in Minnesota.

"A win is a win," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "We did a lot of good things, still had some hiccups, but for the most part, we did very well. It’s about making good simple plays and limiting your errors. It’s good to see some things go our way and we saw some positive signs."

The Kings got within a goal when Anze Kopitar beat Marty Turco with 1:31 remaining in regulation. Jack Johnson tied the game at 1-1 late in the first period. Turco finished with 26 saves.

"We came out unprepared," forward Wayne Simmonds said, "and you saw what happened. We lost 3-2. We have to be better-focused."

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

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