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Senators stun winless Blue Jackets, 4-3

by Erin Nicks
KANATA, Ont. -- The hunger for a win continues while the frustration mounts for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus was less than a minute away from its first win until Jason Spezza beat Steve Mason with 36 seconds left to tie the game at 3-3. Milan Michalek then tipped Sergei Gonchar's slapper into the net with 4.7 seconds left to give the Senators a 4-3 victory against a shocked group of Blue Jackets.

The Senators (3-5-0) won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Columbus, the NHL's only winless team, fell to 0-7-1 -- the worst start in franchise history.

"We played well for 59 minutes and then they got to us at the end," said a dejected captain Rick Nash, playing in his 600th game, who put the Jackets ahead with a power-play goal at 9:20 of the third period. "It's tough. It seems like we're not getting any bounces. It seems like we're finding ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win games. That's the difference between good teams and bad teams right now."

Columbus coach Scott Arniel realizes his players are fighting the puck – and themselves – as they look for their first victory of this season -- and their since last March 29.

"It probably goes to show what a fragile hockey team we truly are," Arniel said. "We played a great game, we took a penalty (late in the third) and it unravelled from there. Obviously the Senators got some life from it. I feel for these guys; they came in here after busting their tails in Detroit and they worked hard again tonight. They put it all out on the line, and that's where we're at right now. We make mistakes and the puck ends up in our net. We don't have to luxury of squeaking out wins. We were up three goals. That should be enough."

For the Senators, who've had their own problems in the early going, it was an unexpected but very welcome two points.

"That was a great game," Gonchar said. "It seems like we're playing better and better and finally we're starting to pick up some wins."

Filip Kuba opened the scoring with a power-play goal off a saucer pass from Spezza at 6:47. Aaron Johnson tied it with his second goal in two nights, beating Craig Anderson on a scramble with a backhander at 13:56.

Columbus pressed early in the second and former Senator Vinny Prospal found Kris Russell for his second of the season, with a wrister past Anderson's blocker just 16 seconds after the opening faceoff.

The Senators got even when Eric Condra fed a beautiful pass to rookie Zack Smith, who flicked a quick snap shot past Mason at 11:30 for his first goal of the season.

It looked as though the Blue Jackets might be turning the corner halfway through the third. Colin Greening was called for a slashing penalty at 8:19, and Columbus went ahead when Nash's wrist shot from the top of the right circle whizzed past Anderson.

Instead, it was the most painful loss of what's already a tough season.

"It seemed too good to be true for our season right now," Nash said. "We're in tough times. We've got to stay up, we've got to stay positive and leaders have to lead and keep making the young guys follow, but (Saturday) I'm speechless for what happened."

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean admitted that the team's communication has improved, thereby allowing them to remain calm defensively and come through in the clutch.

"We're finding confidence in comfort," MacLean said. "We haven't had as much panic – for lack of a better word – defensively where we had in a couple of the other games. We seem to be a little bit more organized and we're talking to one another, and the most important thing is we're listening to one another.  That's the key to playing good defense. "

MacLean also expressed his happiness with Condra, a seventh-round pick in 2006 who saw more than 16 minutes of ice time and chipped in with an assist and solid work on the penalty kill.

"I thought Erik really showed what he brings to our team as a penalty killer," MacLean said. "He has the potential to be an elite penalty killer in the National Hockey League. I thought he did a good job of that tonight and he was solid. Credit to him; that's what we need from him."
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