Manny Malhotra scored the winner late in the second period to lift the Blue Jackets to a 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Sunday night. "It's one of the teams we have to catch," said Malhotra, who scored his first goal in 11 games. "We tried to set the tone of the game and not allow them to get off to their high-tempo style of play."
Sergei Fedorov and Duvie Westcott also scored for Columbus, which is now just three points behind Chicago for third place in the Central Division.
"Overall, both teams didn't generate a lot of scoring chances but we were able to score on special teams," Fedorov said.
Martin Lapointe tallied for Chicago, which has lost three of its last four.
Blackhawks coach Denis Savard thought the difference in the game was that his key players didn't drive to the net.
"The best players have to be the best players," Savard said. "They can't play on the perimeter they have to play in tough situations. They have to find a way. Period."
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.
"We were able to chase the puck down and keep Chicago at its own blue line and not give them much offensively," Fedorov said.
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.
Lapointe was more frustrated with the way his team played than happy about his goal.
"We needed chances and didn't go to the net," Lapointe said. "We just need to get back to basics and go from there."
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 defenceman Duncan Keith.
"Our line was going all night," said Fritsche, referring to teammates Jason Chimera and Malhotra.
The Blue Jackets tied 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 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 defenceman 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.
"Frankly I didn't think we showed up in the first period," Nash said. "But we stayed with it and dominated the rest of the game."
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.