COLUMBUS -- Curtis McElhinney knows his role is to be the backup for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. But for one game, his first for the Columbus Blue Jackets, he was the No. 1 star.
McElhinney made 37 saves, none better than robbing Chris Higgins point blank on the doorstep with 49 seconds left, to lift the struggling Blue Jackets to 3-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday at Nationwide Arena to stop a four-game losing streak.
"I wanted to come in here and make an impression with these guys, leave a good impression," McElhinney said. "Hopefully I did that tonight."
R.J. Umberger scored his first goal of the season at 11:14 of the third period to give the Blue Jackets the lead before assisting on an empty-netter by Ryan Johansen with 27 seconds left.
Johansen's pass threaded two defenders to give Umberger momentum as he skated toward the goal from the right. Umberger continued across the crease and deposited the puck through the pads of Canucks goalie Eddie Lack for the winner.
"It was right on my tape. I didn't have to move my stick," Umberger said of the pass.
Even though the season is still young, Umberger was feeling the weight of not scoring after having eight goals in 48 games last season.
"It looked like he shed some pounds when it went in," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "Guys take it personally, and he took it personally."
Marian Gaborik scored in the first period for the Blue Jackets (3-5-0) and Henrik Sedin tied the game on the power play in the second in a matchup of backup goaltenders. Lack stopped 26 shots for the Canucks (5-4-1) in his second career start.
"He played a great game," Henrik Sedin said. "He's given us a chance to win in each of his starts. That's all you can ask from him."
McElhinney spent last season with the Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, but he had previously played 69 NHL games since 2007 for Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix.
"I felt relaxed," McElhinney said. "I was certainly nervous going into the game. It had been awhile since I played at this level. I wanted to get in there and make that first save."
During his three seasons with the Flames, he was the backup to another Vezina winner, Miikka Kiprusoff. McElhinney was injured late in the preseason and sat the first seven games, but didn't appear to show signs of rust.
"He's been through this. He's a pro," Richards said. "He was great. I didn't have any concerns (starting him). These are things teams can rally around too."
McElhinney was tested from the start when Vancouver went on the power play 22 seconds after the opening whistle due to a boarding call to Blake Comeau. During the ensuing two minutes, McElhinney stopped Daniel Sedin from the left circle, Kesler's fluttering attempt from the high slot and Higgins at the goalmouth.
After surviving that, the Jackets got on the board through Gaborik's third of the season. James Wisniewski had the secondary assist by misfiring from the left point. The puck went off the dasher out to Artem Anisimov in the right circle. His shot was tipped by Gaborik, who was stationed at the top of the crease.
"They were playing their backup on the other side too," Lack said. "It was a game I wanted to win. I didn't quite making the game winning saves like he did at the other end."
The Canucks dominated for long stretches, but couldn't get the equalizer until Sedin scored on the power play at 10:42 of the second period by shoving the puck across the line during a scrum.
Vancouver went into the third still tied 1-1 despite being down two men for 94 seconds because of consecutive delay-of-game penalties for shooting pucks over the glass by Mike Santorelli and Alexander Edler.
Columbus called timeout and managed only two shots with the man advantage, although Fedor Tyutin fired one off the crossbar and Lack made a critical right toe save on Cam Atkinson, who tried a backhander as he cut through the crease.
"Usually when you kill one of those off you hope to win the hockey game, you have a chance to win the hockey game," Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. "You could see it. We were kind of waiting and when you're waiting bad things happen. We didn't give them much, but we gave them enough to win the hockey game."
The Canucks were more fortunate on their tying goal. Kesler was creating a screen for a drive from the point and ended up with a between-the-leg deflection that McElhinney stopped, but couldn't corral the rebound. As he went to smother the puck, Sedin was able to poke it in for his second goal. It was upheld after a review.
Despite being outshot 13-2, it was the Blue Jackets who skated into the locker room with a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes thanks to a redirect by Gaborik at 3:27. They wouldn't get another shot for 10 minutes until an easy Nick Foligno attempt was sent to the corner by Lack.
"Don't let the shoots fool you," Tortorella said. "I don't think we played enough in the areas to score goals. When we did, (McElhinney) made the saves."