COLUMBUS, Ohio - It won't go down as one of the greatest games ever played by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it may be remembered as one of the most important.
Manny Malhotra had two goals and an assist, scoring the go-ahead goal midway through the third period Tuesday night to lead the Blue Jackets past the Los Angeles Kings, 5-4.
"The most important thing, and I think what we're happiest about in this room, is that we're playing good hockey," Malhotra said. "We're in a playoff position and at this point, that's the best the franchise has ever done."
The game pitted teams battling for position in the Western Conference playoff race. The win gave Columbus 70 points and kept it in sixth place as the Blue Jackets desperately pursue the franchise's first trip to the playoffs in their eighth season.
Malhotra hadn't had three points or two goals in a game in almost a year - a span of more than 70 games.
He also maintained control of the puck for the final few seconds, pinning it to the boards while the Kings tried to regain possession with a two-man advantage.
Raffi Torres added a goal and an assist, with goals also coming from Jake Voracek and Jiri Novotny. Kris Russell and Rick Nash each had two assists.
Torres, who has been through a few playoff runs in his day, said the Blue Jackets relied on their first line (Malhotra, Nash, Kristian Huselius), which totalled two goals and four assists.
"That's what you need, you need your top line to take games over like that," he said. "They did that tonight. Manny from the get-go was flying. That's what we need, key goals from them at key moments. For our guys to step up like Nash and Manny did, it was just a special night for them."
Steve Mason had a rough night, but still stopped 22 shots.
"He still made some key saves," Nash said. "Obviously, a couple bounced over his pads. Every goalie in the league's going to have some bad breaks every once in a while. At the end of the day, he's still the backbone of our team and the reason why we're here."
Jarret Stoll had a goal and an assist for the Kings, and Edward Purcell, Anze Kopitar and Oscar Moller each scored in a span of 1:55 of the second period to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
Malhotra snapped a 4-4 tie in the third period, trailing the play to take a perfect tape-to-tape backdoor pass from Nash for his second goal of the night and 10th of the year.
"The second goal was the mentality of giving the puck to either Huselius or Nash and get your stick on the ice and go to the net," Malhotra said. "That's exactly what we did. We made a great tic-tac-toe play and I was fortunate enough to be on the end of it."
Heading into the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday afternoon, the Kings now have to decide if they're going to be buyers or sellers. They find themselves closer to last place than to the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
"At the end of the day, their best players made the plays to win the game," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "That's what it comes down to in a critical situation. That's the way it's supposed to be. Their best players stepped up and got it done."
Columbus held a 3-1 lead when the Kings stunned a crowd of 15,049 by scoring three goals in less than two minutes.
Derek Armstrong carried the puck behind the Columbus goal and fed Purcell for a rocket of a shot from the left dot. Then Kopitar tied it on a soft backhander from the half wall, the puck somehow eluding Mason inside the near post.
Moller then netted a rebound after Mason made a nifty toe save on a drive by Stoll.
The Blue Jackets, returning home after a three-game Western road trip, called a timeout to regroup. It must have worked.
Novotny collected his second goal of the season after his hard shot from the right dot hit and floored defenseman Jack Johnson. The puck kicked over to Russell for a shot that Quick blocked, the puck ending up almost under Johnson as he pulled himself up on all fours. Novotny slipped past him to slide the puck into the empty net to tie it 4-4.
"We managed the game in the third period," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We were a tired hockey club and still found a way to play the right way."
Notes: The Blue Jackets were playing their only home game in a span of six road games. ... Each of the first three meetings had resulted in a shutout, L.A. winning twice by 3-0 counts and Mason shutting out the Kings 2-0 on Dec. 29. ... Midway through the game, Columbus announced that LW Jason Chimera will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a groin injury and is expected to be sidelined for four to five weeks. ... Nash's two assists gave him 60 points for the second season in a row. ... The three-goal barrage marked the fastest ever against the Blue Jackets.