- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Kristian Huselius had a goal in regulation and the only shootout goal and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Thursday night after blowing a three-goal lead in the third period.

Steve Mason was victimized for three goals in a span of 3:25 of the last period, but stopped Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout.

The game was played before 19,167, the largest announced crowd ever to see a hockey game in Columbus.

Antoine Vermette had a goal _ his first since being acquired in a trade-deadline day deal with Ottawa _ and an assist. Jason Williams also had a goal and an assist.

Sergei Gonchar, Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot scored for Pittsburgh.



The Blue Jackets tied a franchise record for wins in a season with their 35th.

Malkin and Crosby each had two assists for the Penguins, who had a seven-game winning streak end.

The win was critical for the Blue Jackets, pursuing their first-ever trip to the playoffs in the franchise’s eighth season. Columbus, which has won three in a row and four of five, is sixth in the Western Conference.

Mason had 38 saves while setting a franchise record for wins by a goalie with 28. A front-runner to be the NHL’s top rookie, he’s 28-16-3.

Mason maintained a shutout through 30 shots but the Penguins, down three goals, finally broke through midway through the third when Gonchar netted his fourth on a power play. His shot from the right point appeared to glance off Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda’s stick and past a surprised Mason. Hejda slammed the ice with his stick after the goal.

Eighty seconds later, the Blue Jackets’ Jiri Novotny gave away the puck behind his own net, with Malkin grabbing it and trying a wraparound. The puck slid past Mason, with Dupuis collecting it and jamming it in for his first goal since Dec. 30.

Two minutes later, Malkin dug the puck off the back wall and tossed a blind pass behind him to Talbot for the tying goal.

In the overtime, Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz hit a crossbar before Mason gloved his slap shot 1:26 in. Mason also made a terrific blocker save on a blast by Letang.

The Blue Jackets got on the board first while both teams were a man down midway through the opening period. Huselius ended up with the puck above the left circle, skated to inside the dot and slid a low shot that somehow eluded Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 25 saves.

Fleury was handling the puck behind the net and tried to pass to Letang when Vermette skated in front of Letang to intercept it. While sliding to his knees, he whipped a centering pass around the goal cage that ramped off Fleury’s outstretched stick. Williams gloved the pass near his hip in the high slot and quickly dropped it, his backhander beating Fleury high for his 15th.

A minute into the third, Vermette took a setup from Williams, steadied the puck and wound up to blast the puck past Fleury. It gave Vermette a goal and two assists in his three games with the Blue Jackets.

Notes:@ Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock was honored before the game for winning his 500th NHL game on Feb. 19. Pat Burns, a mentor to Hitchcock with 501 wins himself, presented him with a plaque and added, “Welcome to the club.” … It was the Penguins’ last game before returning to Pittsburgh for an eight-game home stand. … The Pens outshot Columbus 19-4 in the third.

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