Blue Jackets 3, Blackhawks 1

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Manny Malhotra scored the winner late in the second period to lift the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.

Sergei Fedorov and Duvie Westcott also scored for Columbus, which is now just three points behind Chicago for third place in the Central Division.

Martin Lapointe tallied for Chicago, which has lost three of its last four.

The Blackhawks, which have the league’s worst power play, finished 0-for-5 with the man advantage. They mustered only three third-period shots when trailing most of it by a goal.

Chicago was quicker to the puck in taking a 1-0 lead in the first period.

Jim Vandermeer skated inside the blue line to the right point before firing a slap shot redirected by Lapointe in traffic at 15:23. The goal was Lapointe’s ninth and second in three games.

Columbus thought they pulled even a minute into the second period.

Malhotra bulled to the net and Dan Fritsche stuffed home the rebound, but Malhotra was called for goaltender interference. It appeared he was pushed by defenseman Duncan Keith.

The Blue Jackets did tie it four minutes later on the power play.

Fedorov – starting in the high slot – worked a give-and-go with Rick Nash at the right post and scored his 13th from in close while falling to ice.

The goal revived Columbus, which started pressuring the puck.

After some hard work along the right boards by Jason Chimera and then a kick pass, Malhotra grabbed the puck at the right circle and snapped a low shot past Nikolai Khabibulin to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead at 15:51. The goal was Malhotra’s fourth and first in 11 games.

The Blue Jackets had a chance to increase their lead at 19:16 of the period when Nash was pulled down by defenseman James Wisniewski on a short-handed breakaway. But Khabibulin – pulled on Friday for the first time this season – poked the puck away from Nash before he could attempt a shot.

Midway through the third, Nash had another short-handed breakaway and shot wide.

Late in the period, Wisniewski took an unsportsmanlike penalty. It looked like Nash scored on the ensuing power play with 4:40 left, but after video review it was ruled he redirected it with his hand.

With Khabibulin pulled for an extra attacker, Westcott scored into an empty net with 6 seconds remaining to make it 3-1.

Notes: Chicago RW Peter Bondra injured his shoulder Friday against Boston and did not play. … The Blue Jackets (15 wins) now have won only won four games when the opponent scores first. … Columbus D Rostislav Klesla missed his second consecutive game with a bruised foot. … Chicago had three third-period shots.

AP-ES-12-31-06 2200EST

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