- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 20, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Columbus Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL, and now they get a chance to step atop the league’s most competitive division.

Cam Atkinson had two goals and scored in the shootout, helping Columbus beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Tuesday night for their franchise-record 10th straight victory.

Curtis McElhinney made 44 saves and Sam Gagner scored the decider in the shootout, keeping Columbus unbeaten since Nov. 26.

The Jackets have points in 12 straight games, improved to 21-5-4 and host the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night with a chance to jump into first place in the brutal Metropolitan Division.

Coach John Tortorella gave McElhinney most of the credit for the victory.

“Do we deserve to win? I’m not so sure,” Tortorella said. “Probably not. But Mac gave us a chance, and that’s part of getting these points in the bank before Christmas break comes here.”

McElhinney, the backup to Sergei Bobrovsky, got his second win during Columbus‘ streak after stopping 34 shots in a 3-2 shootout win over Arizona on Dec. 3.

“It was a lot of shots,” McElhinney said. “The big thing was there was not a lot of traffic, and when there were rebounds, we were clearing them out. That was more important than anything.”

Jeff Carter scored twice for Los Angeles, including a tying goal 10:16 into the third period, and also got a goal in the shootout. Peter Budaj stopped 25 shots but allowed goals on 2 of 3 shootout attempts.

The Kings, playing their fifth game of a nine game road trip, fell to 16-13-3.

“We’ve got to put the puck in the net,” Carter said. “We had a lot of good chances. … I thought we did a lot of good things. We played well enough to win.”

Columbus got on the board at 7:35 of the second period when Brandon Dubinsky picked up a pass from Boone Jenner behind the Kings‘ net and scooped it one-handed to Atkinson. Atkinson buried it past Budaj for his 13th goal of the season, extending his career-high seven-game point streak.

“He’s on fire right now,” Dubinsky said of Atkinson. “He is one of those players who puts himself in the right spot all the time.”

The Kings tied it with Carter’s power-play goal at 16:12 of the second, just 38 seconds into Josh Anderson’s penalty for roughing. Alec Martinez and Drew Doughty got the assists.

Atkinson’s shot from the left point at 4:05 of the third period put the Jackets back on top after a tenacious Jackets attack kept the puck in the Kings zone. Dubinsky and David Savard earned the assists.

The Kings knotted it after Gagner’s backhand attempt to clear the puck from the zone put it right on Carter’s stick. Carter buried a shot past McElhinney for his second goal of the night.

NOTES: Columbus won nine straight games during the 2014-15 season. … The Jackets had outshot opponents in 12 of their past 14 games, but the Kings pounded McElhinney with 46 shots.


Kings: Travel to Nashville for a game Thursday night.

Blue Jackets: Host the Penguins on Thursday night. Pittsburgh thumped the Rangers 7-2 on Tuesday to tie New York for first place in the division. Columbus is in third place, trailing the Pens and Rangers by a point.

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