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Winnik helps Maple Leafs defeat Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Daniel Winnik learned less than an hour before playing the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday that he would replace injured Joffrey Lupul on the top line for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Winnik went out and celebrated his 500th NHL game with his 50th goal to help lead the Maple Leafs to a 4-1 victory at Nationwide Arena.

He also had two assists, and with new linemates Phil Kessel (goal, two assists) and Nazem Kadri (goal, assist) they were too much for the slumping Blue Jackets (4-6-0), who have lost four straight.

"It felt comfortable," Winnik said of the line. "I've said it before: When I get a chance to play with skilled guys I can't change my game. I'm there for a reason and that's to create space for them. I thought I did a good job tonight."

David Clarkson also scored for the Maple Leafs (5-4-1), and Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier lost his bid for a second straight shutout with 9:20 left in the third period when Cam Atkinson scored on the power play to make it 3-1.

Bernier (28 saves) made 10 saves defeating the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday and praised the defensive effort of late.

"That's the one thing we focused on the last two games, is to keep everything to the outside," he said. "I thought we did a great job. They got on the rebounds as well."

Prior to the game, the Maple Leafs announced that Lupul would be out indefinitely after breaking his right hand in practice Thursday after falling.

Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said the severity of the injury came as a surprise. He learned about two hours before faceoff that there was a possibility Lupul's hand was broken and the diagnosis was confirmed soon after.

Columbus has problems of its own, having to reach into the minors to field a lineup. The Blue Jackets have eight regulars out, including starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, top scoring defenseman James Wisniewski, and six forwards, three of them centers. Right wing Corey Tropp did not return for the third period because of illness. The Blue Jackets did get back left wing Nick Foligno after missing one game with a stiff neck.

"Guys want to make a difference out there," Columbus forward Jack Skille said. "They're trying hard, especially the young guys and the guys that are called up. They're trying to prove themselves. Everyone in the room is trying to work for the team and do everything they can to help this group win. Obviously, right now it's not happening."

Toronto took the lead when Kessel scored his sixth goal of the season with 4:32 remaining in the first period after the initial ruling was that the puck did not completely cross the goal line. His shot slipped under goalie Curtis McElhinney, and Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin tried to keep it out of the net with his skate but replays showed he was a fraction too late to prevent the goal.

Toronto (5-4-1) is 5-0-0 when Kessel scores.

Clarkson made it 2-0 at 12:13 of the second period with a power-play goal 20 seconds after Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson was called for interference. Dion Phaneuf took a shot from the center of the blue line, and Clarkson scored his third goal of the season by deflecting the puck to the ice before it skipped past McElhinney.

"It's nice to see back-to-back games with a good effort," Bernier said. "It's the only thing missing, the compete level, and we brought it up a notch the last two games."

Kessel fed Kadri for his third goal to complete a 2-on-1 2:38 into the third period.

"I knew it was coming sooner or later, so I kept driving back to the post and I was ready for it," Kadri said.

The Blue Jackets scored on Atkinson's fifth, with Ryan Johansen assisting to extend his point streak to 10 games. Johansen and Atkinson with Scott Hartnell is the lone line to stay intact through all the injuries.

"For the guys on the second, third and fourth lines, they've been jumped around a bit," Johansen said. "It's not easy for them playing with different players all the time."

Winnik proved he can adapt to any line, scoring his first of the season with 3:33 remaining for the 4-1 lead, off a setup by Kessel.

"He's a real special," Kadri said of Winnik. "He really brings a sense of responsibility to our line. He's definitely accountable. It's nice to see him around."

Toronto plays host to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, when Columbus visits the New Jersey Devils.

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