COLUMBUS, Ohio - As the hats and caps rained down, R.J. Umberger smiled, pumped his fist and savoured the moment.
Umberger scored three goals for his second career hat trick to lead Columbus past the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Monday night, ending the Blue Jackets' five-game losing skid.
"It's pretty neat. I don't have them very often," Umberger said. "Someone like (teammate Rick) Nash, it happens more. You have that night every once in a while - it just seems like the puck goes in. Sometimes it just pays off, for your hard work."
After 10 days of frustration, the Blue Jackets felt as if a burden had been lifted.
"Whoever put that first empty-netter in, it just felt like a big relief," Umberger said, referring to Antoine Vermette's goal that made it 4-2 in the final minute. "(It was) some insurance. We didn't want to be at 3-2 battling in the last minute in our zone."
Umberger picked up his third goal on an empty-netter in the final seconds.
Steve Mason stopped 27 shots, including Paul Kariya's wrist shot from the high slot with just over a minute left that would have tied it.
The Blue Jackets had led on each stop of a season-long five-game trip only to lose each game. They returned home to play eight of the next 11 - and figure out a few things.
"There wasn't a third-period meltdown, there wasn't a shootout," defenceman Mike Commodore said of the variety of lost leads in the losing skid. "It was nice to not give up any goals in the third period for the first time in a long time. That's a big win for us, a step in the right direction."
Erik Johnson and Paul Kariya scored for the Blues, who were starting a three-game trip.
"We made three individual checking mistakes that resulted in plays in the back of our net," St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. "We must have shot the puck over the top of their net six times when we had tremendous scoring opportunities. Those things can't happen."
At the 5:20 mark of the third period, with the score tied at 2, Derick Brassard carried the puck up the right wall while being muscled by defenceman Jonas Junland, who had been called up by the Blues earlier in the day. Brassard was able to slide the puck with only his right hand on the stick toward the slot, where Umberger was crashing the net. He chipped the puck past Chris Mason - no relation to Steve - who would finish with 22 saves.
The Blue Jackets had lost defenceman Rostislav Klesla in the first period when he fell awkwardly against the side boards after a hit by Barret Jackman.
"This was a very gritty win," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You lose a player, and the whole bottom fell out when Rusty went down. We just had to find a way to play a little bit better and we did, we played a lot better in the third. We needed this game badly."
Kris Russell had a goal and an assist. Vermette and Umberger also each had an assist.
For a change, the Blue Jackets didn't spend the third period watching someone else become a hero at their expense.
"Yeah, he had a huge night," Nash said of Umberger. "It was a tough game. It's always tough playing St. Louis, and we needed someone to step up and it was (Umberger's) line and him. It's what we needed."
NOTES: The Blues called up Junland earlier in the day from Peoria of the AHL. ... St. Louis had won five of six meetings between the Central Division rivals a year ago. ... Umberger's only other three-goal game came on Dec. 11, 2007, against Pittsburgh while he was playing for Philadelphia. ... Hitchcock called Klesla "the heart and soul of the hockey club."