COLUMBUS, Ohio – Raffi Torres scored early in the third period and Steve Mason made the go-ahead goal stand up as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 Tuesday night in a key Western Conference showdown.

Michael Peca and Torres came in on a 2-on-1 against defenseman Shea Weber, and Peca’s shot resulted in a short rebound. Torres jammed the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne with a backhander at 4:05 for his fourth goal in six games.

Columbus is 11-0 when Torres has a goal.

R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who are sixth in the West with 86 points, four ahead of Nashville and five in front of eighth-place St. Louis.

Cal O’Reilly gave the Predators a lead midway through the first period.

Mason had 21 saves and Rinne had 31 in a matchup of two premier rookies.

Each team has five games left, with Nashville hosting the Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

Nashville had few scoring chances in the first period – but cashed in on one.

At 8:28, Joel Ward carried the puck up the right wing on a 2-on-2 and placed a perfect tape-to-tape backdoor lead pass to O’Reilly for his second of the season.

Rinne was swarmed for most of the period as the Blue Jackets outshot the Predators 17-6.

After several odd-man rushes and prime shots that Rinne turned aside – including a sparkling kick save of Kris Russell’s drive from the left point – Columbus tied it in the final minute of the period.

Antoine Vermette fed Umberger in the right corner. He skated along the goal line unimpeded and his shot deflected off Rinne’s chest. Umberger then pounced on the short rebound for his 26th goal.

It stayed 1-1 through two periods, with both goalies making occasional spectacular saves.

After Torres’ goal the Predators had their chances.

They didn’t have a power play until midway through the third period, then had a 5-on-3 for 28 seconds. Mason made a nifty glove save on Michael Santorelli just before the two-man advantage started, then smothered one shot during the power play. Late in the second penalty, Mason had a kick save on Ward’s quick, spinning backhander from the high slot.

With 7 minutes left, a dump into Nashville’s offensive end took an odd bounce off the boards and ended up on the stick of the Predators’ Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist shed a defender and had a clear path to Mason but the goalie deflected the shot.

Notes: Nashville D Dan Hamhuis played in his 400th NHL game and C Vernon Fiddler skated in his 300th. Columbus D Christian Backman also played in his 300th. … Predators RW J.P. Dumont was sandwiched into the boards by two Blue Jackets at the Columbus bench door. He stayed face down on the ice for several minutes before being assisted to the dressing room. … The Blue Jackets lead the season series 3-2, with the home team winning each game.

AP-ES-03-31-09 2152EDT

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