Blue Jackets eliminate Stars from playoff contention

The SportsXchange

DALLAS -- In a battle of two teams fighting for their playoff lives, the Columbus Blue Jackets remained in contention for the final spot in the Western Conference with a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night before 16,918 at the American Airlines Center.

"Our players have earned this opportunity," Columbus head coach Todd Richards said. "Granted, we still need some help, but it's going to make for a great environment on Saturday in our building. I'm sure the fans are going to be loud and behind us and the players have earned that and I think the fans have earned it too."

With the win, Columbus, which finished a six-game road trip at 5-1-0, is tied with Minnesota for eighth place in the West with 53 points. Dallas was eliminated late in the second period after Detroit, which is in seventh place with 54 points, finished off a 5-2 win over Nashville at Joe Louis Arena.

"Obviously, the last stretch has probably been the toughest for us," Columbus wing Cam Atkinson said. "I think we played 13 games at home and won 12 out of the 13. We knew it was going to be tough but we got the job done on the road."

Dallas has now missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons and with the contract of head coach Glen Gulutzan up after the season, a coaching change could be in order.

The Stars learned they had been eliminated during the second intermission.

"To be honest, we knew after the second period and I think most of our players did too, however, at the moment, the loss stings," Gulutzan said. "You're focused on this game. I think we played strong in the second, we played a little nervous in the first for whatever reason and got going a little later. And we were a little flat in the third, maybe for a reason though."

Columbus, on the other hand, did not know the Red Wings had eliminated the Stars until the game was over.

"Just found out," Columbus center Mark Letestu said. "We had no idea. Wish they would have flashed it up on the scoreboard every now and again."

The Blue Jackets received two goals from Atkinson and two assists from Brandon Dubinsky.

Columbus also went 2-for-4 on the power play in the win.

"We talked this morning about specialty teams," Richards said. "We gave up a goal on their power play but you could see the difference in the game and it ended up being the difference in the game."

Sergei Bobrovsky, who was starting his 11th consecutive game in the net for Columbus, stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced to post his 20th victory of the season.

Atkinson gave the Jackets an early lead when he tapped in a rebound for his seventh goal of the season 19 seconds in. Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen had denied the initial shot by Dubinsky from the right faceoff circle and an attempt off the ensuing rebound by Blake Comeau.

However, after stopping Comeau's effort, the puck was sitting to Lehtonen's right inside the crease and Atkinson skated in for the easy goal to make it 1-0.

At 6:54 of the first, Eric Nystrom tried to get things going for the Stars by dropping the gloves with Columbus defenseman Dalton Prout. The scrum seemed to energize the Dallas attack as after being outshot for much of the early part of the first period, the Stars created several quality chances after the fight.

One of those opportunities came at 10:16 when Erik Cole skated in on Bobrovsky. However, Bobrovsky made a big pad save on Cole's 11-foot wrister to preserve the Blue Jackets' edge.

Columbus nearly doubled that advantage at 15:50 when Marian Gaborik intercepted a wayward pass by Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas at the Stars' blue line. Gaborik skated in for a one-on-one with Lehtonen, but the Dallas netminder made a huge pad save to keep it a one-goal game.

Dallas tied it up at 8:43 of the second when Jamie Benn netted his 12th goal of the season off a deflection. Cole had initiated the rush, skating up the right side of the ice before laying the puck off to Loui Eriksson, who then fed Benn at the far post. Benn then tapped it in for the equalizer to make it 1-1.

Things were pretty quiet for the rest of the second except for a fight between the Blue Jackets' Jared Boll and the Stars' Lane MacDermid at 11:51.

But Columbus recaptured the lead at 7:56 of the third when Mark Letestu blasted a 49-foot slap shot from the point that deflected off Nystrom's stick and then sailed over Lehtonen's glove, a shot that first struck the crossbar before going in, to make it 2-1. Dubinsky had won a faceoff with Dallas' Vernon Fiddler in the left circle and Letestu collected the puck for the go-ahead score.

"(He was) great in the faceoff circle," Richards said of Dubinsky. "But it's hard for me to look past that because the only play I remember from Brandon is throwing his foot out there at the end of the game and having a big block. So there's different things, faceoffs, a big part of the game. Brandon's a big part of it."

The Blue Jackets were just three seconds into a power play when Letestu scored, gaining the man advantage after Robidas was called for interference at 7:53.

Columbus added an insurance tally with 1:40 remaining when Atkinson tapped in a rebound after Lehtonen had stopped a shot from distance by Jack Johnson just seconds earlier.

Lehtonen stopped 32 of 35 shots in a losing effort for Dallas.

Columbus will host Nashville on Saturday night and Dallas concludes the regular season against Detroit.

NOTES: Columbus had no healthy scratches, but center Artem Anisimov (concussion), winger Matt Calvert (finger) and defenseman Nikita Nikitin (lower body) missed Thursday's game because of injuries. ... Dallas' healthy scratch was winger Matt Fraser. Rookie forward Alex Chiasson (shoulder) has missed five straight games, Dallas defenseman Aaron Rome was a late scratch because of an undisclosed reason. Jordie Benn replaced Rome on the Stars' blue line. ... Before the game, Dallas honored former defenseman Richard Matvichuk for his selection to the Stars' 20th Anniversary Team. Matvichuk spent 12 seasons in Dallas and was a member of the 1999 Stanley Cup championship team. ... Tonight marked Dubinsky's second two-assist game of the season and Atkinson's second two-goal performance of the year. ... Columbus is looking to snap a three-year playoff drought.
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