COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although it was only the eighth game of the season, it was already vital for the Columbus Blue Jackets to show some improvement.
A pair of thirty-somethings led the way.
R.J. Umberger scored his first goal of the season with 8:46 left to help make a winner of Curtis McElhinney as the Blue Jackets ended a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.
“It’s a good feeling,” said coach Todd Richards, given a nice present on his 47th birthday. “I sense in the locker room there’s some relief. As the losses started piling up, obviously the pressure amps up as well. The win will alleviate some of that.”
The 31-year-old Umberger had yet to score this season.
“It’s a good first step for us to get out of the hole we were in,” he said. “It was a gutsy challenge we had and we had to find a way to win.”
McElhinney, making his first appearance for the Blue Jackets in place of Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, had 37 saves – including several clutch ones while Columbus protected a one-goal lead.
“I just felt relaxed in there,” said the 30-year-old McElhinney, who won his 20th NHL game but first since going 1-0-0 in 2011-12 with Phoenix. “I was certainly nervous going into the game. It’s been a while since I’ve played at this level. I just wanted to go in, get that first save and then after that it was all downhill. The guys did a good job in front of me of letting me see pucks.”
McElhinney, who has spent parts of five seasons with Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix, played last year in the American Hockey League after being picked up in a trade with the Coyotes.
Bobrovsky, selected the NHL’s top goalie last season, was given the night off after starting Columbus’ first seven games.
Marian Gaborik and Ryan Johansen also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won for the first time at home this season after losing their first two.
Umberger and Johansen each had an assist.
Umberger scored his 152nd career goal but first since April 15, when the Blue Jackets were putting on a late surge that fell just short of getting them into the playoffs.
With the game tied 1-all, Johansen carried the puck on a 2-on-2 rush into the offensive zone and slid a pass through the skates of Vancouver’s Chris Higgins to Umberger, who had advanced behind Higgins. Umberger faked and slid the puck between Lack’s legs.
“Phenomenal,” Umberger said of Johansen’s pass. “He came to the middle and he threaded it right through the guy’s legs. It was right on my tape. I didn’t have to move my stick.”
The win left a lot of Blue Jackets breathing easier.
“It’s huge,” Johansen said. “But it’s one win and it’s not going to get any easier.”
Henrik Sedin had the goal for the Canucks. Eddie Lack stopped 26 shots in place of Roberto Luongo, rested on the second night of back-to-back games for Vancouver.
“It was tough to get good opportunities,” Sedin said. “A lot of shots were outside and we didn’t have a lot of traffic (in front of the net).”
The Canucks, playing their fourth of a season-high seven-game road trip, applied plenty of pressure to try to tie it. McElhinney gloved a hard one-timer by Jason Garrison in the final minutes and then stopped Higgins’ jam shot from point-blank range off a pass from the back wall by Daniel Sedin with 45 seconds remaining.
Johansen then added an empty-netter.
Canucks coach John Tortorella said the stat sheet was misleading.
“Don’t let the shots fool you,” he said. “I don’t think we played enough in the areas (you have to) to score goals. They’ll let you play on the outside all night long. For most of the minutes, that’s what we did.”