Jason Chimera leads Blue Jackets to a 5-3 win over Lightning

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock summed up the feelings of his team precisely in one word: relieved.

Jason Chimera scored a power-play goal with 3:44 remaining, and the Blue Jackets ended a seven-game home winless skid with a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.

"To come back and win in the third period is the best feeling for us right now," Hitchcock said of his club, which is five points out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. "You start to have doubt in your game ... but winning like tonight can relieve some of those problems."

David Vyborny, Derek MacKenzie, Michael Peca and Jiri Novotny also scored for Columbus, whose home skid was one shy of the franchise record. The Blue Jackets ended a three-game overall slide and the league's worst offence produced its highest goal total at home since Jan. 11.

Jeff Halpern had a goal and assist for Tampa Bay, losers of five in a row and 10 of 11. Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, who ended a 12-game goal drought, scored for Tampa Bay, last place in the Eastern Conference.

"I thought our team played hard, defended well, didn't give up many opportunities at all," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We scored a couple goals and played good enough to lose."

The Lightning pulled even at three late in the second period with goals 1:02 apart. St. Louis beat goalie Pascal Leclaire, who had 24 stops, with a slapshot from the left dot and Lecavalier converted a penalty shot, but Chimera deflected a slapshot by Nikolai Zherdev that trickled across the goal-line for his 14th and ending the Blue Jackets' 0-for-34 slump with the man advantage.

At the midway mark of the first period, Columbus worked the puck down low on the power play and Vyborny beat Mike Smith, who finished with 20 saves, near-side with a soft shot from the right side of the goal-line, one second after the power play expired.

"We're counting that as a power-play goal," Hitchcock said with a smile.

Halpern, alone in front, tied it three minutes later, putting a close-range shot over Leclaire after being set up by Mathieu Darche's centring pass from behind the net.

The goal was Halpern's 13th of the season and third in seven games since being acquired from Dallas in a package-deal, which included Smith, for Brad Richards at the trade deadline two weeks ago.

MacKenzie made it 2-1 at 19:18 for his first career goal, pounding home a loose puck in the crease after Smith turned the puck over behind his goal and two Columbus players fanned on open chances.

"It was nice to finally get one, especially when we're hunting for a playoff spot," MacKenzie said.

Zherdev helped give Columbus a two-goal lead midway through the second period. He took the puck down the right wing and threaded a pass to Peca, who beat Smith from the slot for his fifth of the season.

"We've been disappointed with the way we've played at home since the All-Star break," Peca said. "It's good to see us be a little more resilient tonight."

After Leclaire looked in control with a spectacular kick save on Michel Ouellet's slap shot, St. Louis tallied his 22nd at 16:35 and Lecavalier, who entered with the fourth most points in the league, scored his 33rd after being hooked down by Jan Hejda.

Notes: Tampa Bay finished 0-for-7 on the power play. ... The Blue Jackets need one point to tie the franchise record of 74 points in a season, set in 2005-06. ... It was the first game between the teams in Columbus since 2003. ... Rick Nash, the first selection in the 2002 entry draft, had two assists and now has 58 points, a new career high.



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