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Vermette does it again for Blue Jackets

by Brian Compton
Looks like Antoine Vermette and the Columbus Blue Jackets are a match made in hockey heaven.

The trade-deadline acquisition scored 2:38 into overtime on Wednesday night, leading his team to a pulsating 4-3 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena.

The goal was made possible by R.J. Umberger, who carried the puck up the right wing on an odd-man rush and delivered a pass that tumbled to the high slot, where Vermette beat defenseman Brian Campbell and slipped the puck past Cristobal Huet for his first game-winner in more than a year.

''It doesn't get much better than a playoff race,'' said Vermette, who has points in five of his first six games since arriving from Ottawa. ''It's great. I'm pretty happy.''

Umberger, Derek Dorsett and Rick Nash also scored for the Blue Jackets, who tied a franchise record with 80 points while winning for the fifth time in six games. Columbus is in sixth place in the Western Conference and is on the verge of clinching its first playoff spot. Rookie goalie Steve Mason made 24 saves en route to his 29th win of the season.

''When you're in this kind of race, everybody checks every once in a while,'' Dorsett said. ''No one really pays too much attention. You've just got to worry about yourself and make sure you're getting the two points.''

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had a goal and an assist for the struggling Blackhawks, who have lost four straight and six of seven. Huet made several key saves and was mostly responsible for his team earning a point in the standings.

''Obviously, the way we've been playing, it's good to get a point,'' Kane said. ''But you want to go in and win that game. So it's disappointing not to get two. You can tell by everyone's reaction in the locker room that we're not real happy.''

Chicago did outplay Columbus in the third period, as the Blackhawks fired 12 shots on goal compared to the Blue Jackets' three. However, neither team found the back of the net in the final 20 minutes. Nonetheless, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville took some positives out of his team's latest defeat.

''The confidence is a little bit off,'' Quenneville said. ''We stemmed a little bit of the flow going against us. (But) we've got to (start) winning and feeling a little more confident at critical times of games.''

Dave Bolland got Chicago off to a quick start as he scored in the opening minute for his 16th goal of the season. But Umberger redirected a tape-to-tape pass from Jake Voracek past Huet to tie it just 2:29 later.

After Dorsett jammed in a rebound to give Columbus the lead at 11:09, Kane took a pretty feed from Troy Brouwer and one-timed it past Mason to make it 2-2 after one period.
Toews restored Chicago's lead with a power-play goal at 9:50 of the second period. The Blackhawks' captain was the beneficiary of two nifty passes as Kane tossed a cross-ice feed to Cam Barker, who set up Toews with a centering pass for his 29th goal of the season.

Columbus tied the game again when Nash wristed a shot from a sharp angle over Huet's right shoulder for his 34th of the season.

That set things up for Vermette to again make Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson look awfully good -- again.

"He's been solid since we got him," coach Ken Hitchcock said of Vermette. "He's an unassuming player. He doesn't stick out until you look at the scoresheet and he's won key faceoffs, got the puck out and he's done the good job killing penalties and scored big points. Every night he gets the job done."

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

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