- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Some of the high energy seemed to be sucked out of Nationwide Arena when Sidney Crosby scored for Pittsburgh less than 3 minutes into the game against Columbus. But the Penguins wouldn’t find the net again for the rest of the night as the surging Blue Jackets rallied for a blowout win.

Scott Hartnell had his ninth career hat trick and the Blue Jackets scored four times in a head-spinning third-period flurry to rout the Penguins 7-1 on Thursday night.

Cam Atkinson, William Karlsson, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner also scored to help the Blue Jackets win their 11th straight game and take over first place in the Metropolitan Division.

“Goals have been few and far between for myself for the last 15 or 20 games, so it’s nice to contribute,” Hartnell said. “Everyone had smiles on their faces tonight, everyone is contributing, and when you beat the Pens your smile is extra big.”

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Columbus (22-5-4) amid a rollicking playoff atmosphere and a sell-out crowd at Nationwide Arena.

Crosby was mostly shut down in a fast, testy game marked by several skirmishes and players being pulled apart. Matthew Murray had 21 saves for Pittsburgh (21-8-5), which failed to earn a point for the first time in 11 games. The loss matched the Penguins’ worst of the season.

“I think there were momentum shifts throughout the game,” Crosby said. “I think the first period we were really good, the second period they carried the play a little bit more. Obviously, (in) the third they were much better.”

Crosby got his NHL-leading 23rd goal 2:39 in when he batted the puck out of the air into the net after an Ian Cole shot bounced off Bobrovsky’s pads.

Atkinson evened it on a power play at 13:01 into the first, slamming it past Murray after a perfect setup pass from Nick Foligno at the goal line. It was Atkinson’s team-leading 15th goal and 34th point.

Gloves went flying in the second period when Jenner and Pittsburgh’s Steve Oleksy mixed it up with both landing some blows before being broken up.

The Blue Jackets went up 2-1 at 9:45 into the second when Sam Gagner shoved the puck forward as he fell behind the net and Karlsson flipped into the top of the net. Play was stopped while officials reviewed the video and confirmed it was a no-doubt goal.

Less than 3 minutes later, Hartnell hustled after a loose puck and juked Murray with a backhand shot into the net to make it 3-1. Less than a minute after that, Hartnell was penalized for throwing a puck back at the Penguins’ Matt Cullen after it was flipped up into the air at him. During that sequence Oleksy was called for high-sticking Hartnell.

Then came the third-period flurry with Hartnell, Saad and Jenner all scoring within the space a single minute. Hartnell added his third goal less than 3 minutes later, and caps rained onto the ice.

Columbus coach John Tortorella said his team overcame early jitters to beat an intimidating opponent.

“We were really nervous, and we talked about it in between the periods, we talked about how we’ve been playing in this league and that’s when I thought they took a great step mentally,” Tortorella said. “They believed they could win, where in the first period I thought we were wetting our pants. So it’s a great process to go through for a young team to go find its way in the last two periods.”

NOTES: Atkinson was on the ice for Columbus despite a left foot injury he suffered blocking a puck in the Tuesday night shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings. Atkinson leads the NHL in power-play points (16) and has an eight-game point streak. … Columbus hasn’t lost a game in regulation since the day before Thanksgiving. … Oliver Bjorkstrand rejoined Columbus from Cleveland of the AHL on Wednesday but was a scratch Thursday along with Dalton Prout and Scott Harrington. … Chad Ruhwedel, Trevor Daley and Tom Kuhnhackl were scratches for Pittsburgh.

UP NEXT:

Pittsburgh: Hosts New Jersey on Friday night.

Columbus: Hosts Montreal on Friday night.

___

Follow Mitch Stacy at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy


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