ST. PAUL, Minn. – Jaroslav Balastik’s goal in the third round of a shootout Wednesday night lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Randy Robitaille, who tied the game with 6:33 remaining in regulation when he redirected a shot with his back to the net, was denied by Columbus goalie Pascal Leclaire on Minnesota’s final chance.

After Trevor Letowski and Sergei Federov missed for the Blue Jackets and Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu were unsuccessful for the Wild, Balastik beat Manny Fernandez to give Columbus its second straight win after losing 11 of 12.

Leclaire made 32 saves, and Letowski and Duvie Westcott each scored in the first period for the Blue Jackets. Koivu had a goal for Minnesota, which lost at Columbus in a shootout on Oct. 28.

Federov, who had an assist, became the first Russian-born NHLer to play in 1,000 career games. Acquired two weeks ago in a trade with Anaheim, the six-time All-Star center – who turns 36 on Dec. 13 – is the 205th player to reach that milestone.

The Blue Jackets peppered Fernandez in the overtime period during two power plays, but they were turned away on all seven shots. Columbus has the league’s worst success rate with a man advantage, 10.2 percent coming into the game. The Wild have the NHL’s best penalty-kill unit, 89.9 percent before Wednesday.

Coach Jacques Lemaire has rotated his goalies without naming a No. 1 throughout most of the franchise’s five years, but Fernandez’s success has made him recently rethink that philosophy. Asked at the team’s morning skate who would be starting in net, Lemaire said, “I think the decision is easy to make,” without mentioning Fernandez. Roloson is 3-7-1, and Fernandez is 7-3-2.

The Blue Jackets scored midway through the first period when Federov – behind the net – fed a wide-open Letowski, whose low shot to Fernandez’s stick side hit the post and caromed in.

Then Westcott, who played in college for St. Cloud State, less than two hours by car from St. Paul, snagged a puck after a Wild turnover, beat his defender and fired a shot between Fernandez’s pads to put the Blue Jackets up 2-0 with 1:07 left before the first intermission.

Minnesota moved within one early in the second period, when the rookie Koivu was in perfect position in front of the crease to sweep a rebound of Brian Rolston’s long shot past Leclaire’s stick.

Gaborik, whose season has been cut short by injuries to his groin and hip but has four goals and six assists in the six games he’s played in, nearly tied it just before the second intermission. He broke down the right wing near the boards, darted to the net, deked Leclaire and watched his wrist shot hit the left post and bounce back.

Notes: The Wild will play 16 games, 10 on the road, in December, starting Thursday at Nashville. … The Blue Jackets visit St. Louis on Thursday. The Blues’ 11 points leave them last in the league.

AP-ES-11-30-05 2304EST

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