Blue Jackets strengthen playoff chances by topping Sharks

The SportsXchange

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- If the Columbus Blue Jackets reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second time in team history, they just might have the San Jose Sharks to thank.

After winning a pair of games by a combined score of 10-2 at home, the Blue Jackets came into a tough arena toward the end of a long trip and skated out with a critical 4-3 win and a season-sweep of the turnover-happy Sharks.

Ryan Johansen scored at 18:23 of the third period following a Joe Pavelski turnover that enabled Columbus to win for only the third time in 23 all-time meetings in San Jose.

Columbus (22-17-7), in search of its first playoff appearances since 2008-09, picked up two points to increase its lead to three points over the Detroit Red Wings for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blue Jackets cap their six-game road trip on Thursday in Dallas before hosting Nashville on Saturday in the regular-season finale.

"We're underdogs every night, we feel like we're trying to prove people wrong, that no one believes in us and we feel like the playoffs are our destiny and we really want to make it," Blue Jackets forward RJ Umberger said.

The Sharks could have clinched a playoff berth with a win or overtime loss against Columbus. They sit in fifth in the Western Conference standings and finish a four-game homestand on Tuesday against Dallas before finishing on the road in Phoenix on Wednesday and Los Angeles on Saturday.

"We've just got to regroup and be ready for a desperate team that's coming in here on Tuesday," Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart said. "Obviously we would have liked to wrap it up, but it didn't happen so let's not dwell on it and move on."

Before his costly late-game turnover on Sunday, Pavelski's 15th goal of the season -- a power-play tally at 14:57 -- tied the game at 3-3. Jack Johnson's interference penalty on Pavelski gave San Jose only its second 5-on-4 in the game.

"It's a crucial moment in the game, you want to be out there at that time," Pavelski said of his late-game gaffe. "A lot of guys in here put a lot of work in throughout the whole game ... And a giveaway like that is tough, obviously."

Andrew Desjardins pulled the Sharks to within one goal early in the third period on a strong individual effort. He caught Johnson flat-footed on the entry, delayed to force defenseman Dalton Prout to overskate the play at the goal line, and outweighted goalie Sergie Bobrovsky to score his second of the season at 6:34.

But the giveaway column -- dominated by the Sharks 17-6 -- stood out most to coach Todd McLellan.

"We're trying to get our team playing the right way and we can't let that slip," McLellan said. "We didn't manage the puck or the game very well tonight. We didn't win a lot of faceoffs, (had) extended shifts, got a little selfish, turned pucks over in bad areas."

The Blue Jackets snapped a drought on the power play and scored at even-strength to take a 3-1 lead into the second-period intermission.

San Jose defenseman Brad Stuart turned the puck at center, allowing Mark Letestu to spring Vinny Prospal on a breakaway goal at 4:27 and a 2-0 lead for Columbus.

The Sharks struck back at 7:14 when Logan Couture found Martin Havlat in front for his eighth goal of the season and third in two games.

But the Blue Jackets made Matt Irwin pay for an interference penalty as Letestu scored his second of the game and 12th of the season at 12:52 with a shot from the left point that found a way through teammate Marian Gaborik battling Stuart in front of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi.

The Blue Jackets had 18 straight failed power plays over nine games and had converted only one in 25 chances over the previous 13 contests.

"It's been a tough stretch," Letestu said. "To have something to create some momentum for us, but especially for us to re-establish that two-goal lead. It was good at the time, but we'll take any power-play goals we can get now."

San Jose had three chances late. Desjardins was stopped in close by Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and Raffi Torres hit the far post a minute later with 3:05 remaining. Havlat overskated a rebound of a Couture shot on the final minute.

The Sharks had the majority of shots and scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes, but the Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead to the locker room at intermission.

Letestu scored redirected a Jack Johnson feed from the left circle between the legs of Niemi at 16:53. Letestu had a step on defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the play.

NOTES: Niemi made his 23rd straight start for San Jose on Sunday. He has not been idle since March 6. ... San Jose forward Patrick Marleau had one goal in his previous 12 games before Sunday. ... San Jose coach Todd McLellan termed defenseman Jason Demers "banged up" and played veteran Scott Hannan for just the second time since his deadline-day acquisition. Forwards James Sheppard, Tim Kennedy and defenseman Matt Tennyson were healthy scratches. ... Defenseman David Savard was Columbus' lone healthy scratch as forwards Matt Calvert, Artem Anisimov and defenseman Nikita Nikitin remain out with injuries.
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