CHICAGO (AP) Long out of postseason contention, the Columbus Blue Jackets are playing like a playoff team.
Cam Atkinson scored twice in Columbus’ four-goal first period and added an empty-net goal in the final minute for his second career hat trick to help the Blue Jackets win their fifth straight game, 5-2 over the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.
Ryan Johansen and Kevin Connauton also connected for Columbus. Twelfth in the Eastern Conference, the Blue Jackets set a team record with their seventh consecutive road victory and have won eight of nine overall.
”Obviously, a lot of people say it’s hard to get motivated especially since we’re not going to make the playoffs,” Atkinson said. ”But we’re playing for pride, for each other and our fans back in Columbus.”
The Blue Jackets have been raked by injuries this season after making the playoffs last year for only the second time in franchise history. Now they’re on a roll – and looking forward.
”We want to get the momentum for summer and start strong for next year,” said Atkinson, whose previous hat trick was in April 2012 against Colorado.
Added Johansen: ”We’ve still got such a young team and so much room for growth. We don’t want to take this opportunity right now for granted.”
Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves.
Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews scored for Chicago, which dropped its second straight and lost for the third time in four games. Although the Blackhawks are in fourth place in the Western Conference, Chicago finds itself atop a tightening race for playoff spots.
In their last four contests, the Blackhawks have been outplayed for long stretches. Although Chicago has the third-best defensive record in the NHL, it gave the Blue Jackets prime opportunities through puck management mistakes.
”We just gave away way too many grade-A scoring chances and it hurt us.” Toews said. ”We’ve been doing that to our goaltenders way too often lately and it finally caught up to us.”
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford was pulled with 3:14 left in the first period after allowing four goals on 13 shots. Scott Darling finished, and stopped all 13 shots he faced.
”I wasn’t blaming (Crawford) at all,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ”The quality was on what we gave them.
”I didn’t pull him because of what he let in, we just wanted to change things up.”
The Blue Jackets jumped on Chicago mistakes in a loosely played first period to build a 4-2 lead.
Chicago’s Duncan Keith, winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman last season, committed two turnovers that led directly to two of the Blue Jackets’ goals and was a minus-3 in the period.
Saad opened the scoring on Chicago’s first shot, a drive from left wing, 3:26 in. But Johansen tied it at 1 just 41 seconds later on a breakaway after Keith couldn’t handle the puck at the right point.
Atkinson’s first goal, fired from the right point, deflected in off Crawford’s shoulder at 9:24 to put Columbus head 2-1. Then Toews tied it 2-2 just over 2 minutes later when he cut through the slot and deflected Johnny Oduya’s shot from the left point past Bobrovsky.
Connauton put Columbus ahead 3-2 with 6:57 left in the first on a screened shot from the left point. Keith’s failed clearing attempt off the boards landed back on Connauton’s stick after he had taken an initial shot from same spot moments earlier.
Atkinson’s second goal, a short-handed score on a breakway 2:43 later, upped it to 4-2 and chased Crawford from the game.Atkinson slipped behind the Chicago defense, took a long pass up the middle from Cody Goloubef, burst in alone and beat Crawford with a nifty move.
Keith fired a shot off the right post with 5 seconds left in the scoreless second period.
Neither team had many chances in the scoreless third. Atkinson completed his hat trick when he slid the puck into an empty net with 59 second left and Darling on the bench for an extra attacker.
NOTES: Chicago D Nicklas Hjalmarrson left the game holding his left arm with 3 minutes left, but Quenneville said he didn’t think the injury was serious. . Blue Jackets C Brandon Dubinksy returned after missing four games with an upper-body injury. … Columbus RW Jared Boll served the first game of a three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Anaheim’s Patrick Maroon on Tuesday. … Blackhawks fourth-line forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Daniel Carcillo sat out with upper-body injuries. … F Vince Hinostroza, who signed with the Blackhawks last week after leading the Notre Dame in scoring as a sophomore, met with media during the game.