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Associated Press
12/9/2006 11:54:20 PM


ST. LOUIS (AP) - Ken Hitchcock insists any coach could have got Columbus out of its early-season slump. He just happened to get the job after the Blue Jackets dismissed Gerard Gallant last month.

"When a coach gets fired and the slate's clean, it's really on the players," he said. "I said before I took the job I thought there was a good spirit.

"We needed to gain some confidence by getting a couple of wins."

The confidence appears to be building.

Columbus won its third consecutive game Saturday night, beating St. Louis 5-1. Sergei Fedorov had two goals and an assist, and Fredrik Norrena came within a shot of posting his third consecutive shutout.

The Blue Jackets are enjoying their first three-game winning streak of the season and moved two points ahead in the Central Division of St. Louis, which lost its seventh straight. The Blues are last in the NHL with 18 points.

Columbus had won two consecutive games one other time with victories at Chicago and against Phoenix in the second and third games of the season. The Blue Jackets lost six straight before Hitchcock took over Nov. 22, hours before a 4-3 shootout loss to St. Louis. They dropped three of four before starting this upward streak.

"We were so beat down mentally and this has been a good change for us," said defenceman Adam Foote, who scored his first of the season midway through the second period.

Norrena and fellow goalie Pascal LeClaire have kept the Blue Jackets in every game since Hitchcock took over. They have allowed 13 goals overall and four in five games. All four losses under Hitchcock have come during a shootout or by one goal.

Norrena stopped 24 shots, yielding only Bill Guerin's team-leading 12th goal with about seven minutes left in the second period during a 5-on-3 power play. The goal ended Norrena's team-record shutout streak at 155 minutes 28 seconds. He blanked Edmonton and Colorado and hadn't allowed a goal since Nov. 25 against Minnesota.

"Things came together," Norrena said. "Now, we score some goals and get the lead, it's been pretty nice to play out there."

Ron Tugnutt set the previous record of 153:58 in March 2001.

St. Louis hasn't won since earning consecutive shootout victories at Columbus and Detroit on Nov. 22-24. The Blues have earned one point during their seven-game slide.

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