Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1

Everywhere there were players laughing and smiling.

Along the back wall of the dressing room, Steve Mason was

wearing a goofy-looking hard hat, a symbol that maybe the Columbus

Blue Jackets were ready to finally laugh away their troubles and

get down to the work of turning their season around.

Mason had 22 saves, R.J. Umberger scored an empty-netter while

sliding on his gut and the Blue Jackets beat the Dallas Stars 2-1

on Thursday night in Claude Noel’s coaching debut.

“It’s a good way to add some humor into this,” Mason said,

grinning while sporting the all-white construction hat with a Blue

Jackets sticker slapped on the front. “Obviously, it’s a very

sought-after item. I’m quite happy to have it right now. It’s the

first one. I have to say I look pretty good.”

Noel was coaching his first NHL game after taking over for Ken

Hitchcock, fired Wednesday after the Blue Jackets sagged to a

22-27-9 record a season after making their first trip to the

playoffs.

“He was (doing) ‘play-by-play’ the whole game,” Umberger said

of Noel, shaking his head. “I thought he was a commentator. It was

good. He was positive, he was upbeat.”

With the Blue Jackets leading 1-0 on Anton Stralman’s

first-period goal, Umberger wedged between two Dallas players and

then fell to the ice, sliding on his stomach while corralling the

puck and scoring into the empty net with 1:08 remaining.

That goal loomed large when Dallas’ Brad Richards scored on slap

shot through heavy traffic with 43 seconds left.

“(They) fell and I fell in front, so it worked out,” Umberger

said of his highlight-reel goal. “The big thing is that it was a

big goal for the team at that point because they came back and

scored. It took some pressure off and then it ends up being the

game-winner.”

The Stars’ goal was allowed after a lengthy review. It first

appeared that Steve Ott batted the puck into the net with a

chopping motion while it was chest high. But Richards was credited

with his 17th of the season, his shot from the point first hitting

the skate of Columbus’ Jake Voracek and then bouncing off Mason’s

backside.

The Blue Jackets where able to hang on by icing the puck in the

final seconds.

The first brilliant move for Noel, a former American Hockey

League coach who was elevated from Blue Jackets assistant, might

have been dusting off the old hard hat, something the trainers had

bought but had never been used.

“Teams do it and we brought it (here),” Noel said. “Ken

(Hitchcock) recommended that we buy it a while back on the road, so

we bought it. I had the hard hat in the (pregame) meeting and said

that we need to play for this game. When you win games, someone

awards the hard hat to the hardest-working guy and it becomes a

symbol of success.”

Marty Turco, who lost all three times as Columbus won the season

series 3-1, had 25 saves for the Stars, who are just 1-10-2 on the

road since Dec. 11.

Dallas failed to score on three power plays.

“We did a lot of good things to get the power play

opportunities,” Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. “We didn’t

convert on them. We’d like to have the will of all to be able to

handle the moment in that situation. It seemed like we had four

guys going and maybe one guy not going on the power plays. But

overall, we played a real solid game. We had the better of the

chances. Their goalie played great.”

After the Blue Jackets killed the last power play with under

1:30 remaining, the Stars’ Matt Niskanen skated into the high slot

and fired a wrister that Mason was able to smother in his chest

pads.

Columbus captain Rick Nash – playing in his 500th career game –

assisted on Umberger’s memorable goal. He later lamented

Hitchcock’s firing while marveling at the change in his

teammates.

“We looked like a different team,” he said. “(It was) a

totally different vibe out there tonight. It was nice.”

NOTES: Columbus didn’t have a man advantage all night – the

first time that has happened since April 10, 2009, at St. Louis, a

3-1 loss. … Nash has 218 goals, 190 assists and 408 points in his

500 games. … Tom Hicks, the financially strapped owner of the

Stars, announced earlier in the day that he is exploring a possible

sale of the team. … Stralman snapped a string of 30 games without

a goal.