That patience paid off on Monday night when Zherdev tied the game with an acrobatic, highlight-reel goal in the final seconds of regulation. Jaroslav Balastik then scored in overtime to help the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
"He's going to be a scary player," said veteran defenseman Adam Foote, who also had a goal for Columbus. "He's young, he's learning -- and that was a big goal for us."
Zherdev tied it without much help with 23 seconds left in regulation, skating end-to-end and muscling past four defenders in the Columbus zone before charging in on goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin stopped Zherdev's jam in the crease, but Zherdev tapped in the follow while flying through the air after the goalie knocked him off his skates.
"Going coast to coast is rare for me, but I think it's what I do best," Zherdev said through an interpreter. "I think it was the most important goal of my life right now."
Balastik took a pass from Radoslav Suchy for a slap shot from near the right faceoff dot to beat Khabibulin 2:35 into the overtime and end the Blue Jackets' six-game losing streak. It was Balastik's sixth goal of the season and fourth in the last three games.
"I'm playing good right now. I'm playing with confidence," said Balastik, who led the Czech Elite League in scoring the last two years.
The dramatic victory improved Columbus to 6-1 in overtime games and shootouts -- and 4-25-0 in games decided in regulation.
"It is huge for us," Blue Jackets coach Gerard Gallant said. "There are a lot of games where I say we played well but we get no points. Tonight we didn't play well and we got the points. I would rather take the two points."
The defeat was similar to Chicago's 3-2 overtime loss against Detroit on Friday night. The Blackhawks led 2-0 with 39 seconds left only to watch the Red Wings tie it with two late goals and then win it on a goal with less than a second left in overtime.
"We had plenty of opportunities to put the game away," coach Trent Yawney said. "It's maturity, in terms of recognizing where you are in the game. When you have the opportunity to put the game away, put it away. There was plenty of opportunities for us to make that game basically out of reach."
The Blackhawks went up 1-0 on their second shot of the game. Matthew Barnaby dug the puck out of the corner and tossed it back to Lapointe for a one-timer from the top of the right circle. It was Lapointe's seventh goal of the year and second in as many games.
Chicago survived almost a minute with a two-man disadvantage but Columbus tied the game soon after on the power play. Klesla's shot, a hard one-timer from close to the blue line, eluded Khabibulin on the stick side. It was Klesla's second goal of the year and his 50th career point.
In a wild second period, the teams combined for three goals -- two short-handed and one on the power play.
Klesla's long pass to Zherdev helped set up Foote's short-handed goal to give Columbus a 2-1 lead. Zherdev saucered a pass to Foote for a shot from the right circle 1:57 in.
The Blackhawks pulled even on Babchuk's second of the year, on the power play. His long slap shot made it through traffic with eight seconds left on the man advantage.
Keith then broke the tie on a soft goal from the point past goaltender Marc Denis.
"It was the most important (goal) because it was important for the team tonight," Zherdev said of his late heroics. "We are working hard to be in every game right now and I'm trying to help as much as I can."
|Nikolai Zherdev goes airborne after beating goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to tie the game. (AP)|
|Columbus (10-25-1) «||1||1||1||1||4|
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|03:28||Martin Lapointe (7), Wrist Shot - Assist: Matthew Barnaby|
|16:01||Power Play - Rostislav Klesla (2), Slap Shot - Assists: Ron Hainsey and David Vyborny|
|01:57||Short - Adam Foote (5), Slap Shot - Assists: Nikolai Zherdev and Rostislav Klesla|
|05:18||Power Play - Anton Babchuk (2), Slap Shot - Assists: Tyler Arnason and Kyle Calder|
|12:24||Short - Duncan Keith (4), Slap Shot - Assists: Mikael Holmqvist and Curtis Brown|
|19:36||Nikolai Zherdev (10), Wrist Shot - Assist: Ron Hainsey|
|02:35||Jaroslav Balastik (6), Wrist Shot - Assists: Radoslav Suchy and Jan Hrdina|
|04:44||Sharp: Holding - 2 min.|
|07:00||Letowski: Hooking - 2 min.|
|13:39||Calder: Tripping - 2 min.|
|14:47||Vorobiev: Hooking - 2 min.|
|16:34||Barnaby: Diving - 2 min.|
|16:34||Westcott: Cross Check - 2 min.|
|17:39||Aucoin: Tripping - 2 min.|
|18:50||Barnaby: Game Misconduct - 10 min.|
|19:49||Zherdev: Holding - 2 min.|
|00:55||Westcott: Delay of Game - 2 min.|
|03:26||Hulse: Hooking - 2 min.|
|07:58||Holmqvist: Hooking - 2 min.|
|12:02||Sharp: Interference - 2 min.|
|02:54||Shelley: Hooking - 2 min.|
|04:17||Rupp: Tripping - 2 min.|
|09:15||Hulse: Interference - 2 min.|
|11:36||Vandermeer: Delay of Game - 2 min.|
|12:18||Aucoin: Tripping - 2 min.|
|12:22||Fedorov: Interference - 2 min.|
|SHOTS ON GOAL|
|Attendance - 17441|
|Game Time - 62:35|
|Referees - Dan O'Halloran, Justin St. Pierre|
|Line Judges - Brian Mach, Thor Nelson|