Tocchet's return to Phoenix bench spoiled by Blue Jackets' win

GLENDALE, Ariz. (ESPN.com news services) -- Despite a one-goal margin of victory, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock thought his team deserved more.

Nonetheless, Jason Chimera and Nikolai Zherdev scored early in the first period to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night.

The win was the Jackets' third in four games against Phoenix and moved Columbus to within one point of Phoenix in the race for a playoff spot.

The game also marked the return of Rick Tocchet to the Coyotes' bench after serving a two-year suspension for his part in an illegal gambling ring. The time away was a combination of a leave of absence and a suspension by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Tocchet returned to his former job of associate head coach.

"With the way we played, we deserved to be up more than just 2-1," Hitchcock said. "Nothing comes easy for this team. We have to fight and claw for everything."

The final seconds were not easy for Columbus.

The Coyotes had an opportunity to tie late in the game. The Jackets' Jared Bolt went off for holding with 1:32 remaining. Columbus goalie Fredrik Norrena preserved the win with a brilliant glove save against Steven Reinprecht in the closing seconds.

"I tried to pull it with my backhand and get it upstairs," Reinprecht said. "I was in pretty tight but he got a good glove on it. It was a nice save."

Norrena stopped 26 shots for his seventh victory of the season.

Strong defense in the slot and around Norrena keyed the Columbus win.

"This was a solid team effort," he said. "We did get strong play in front of the net and when that happens, it makes it easier to make the save."

The Blue Jackets started the game by scoring two goals with their first seven shots.

Early in the opening period, and with the Coyotes on the power play, Pete Mueller could not hold a pass at the right point. Chimera raced to center ice, scooped up the loose puck, skated down the left side and beat Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at 4:20.

Then skating with a 5-on-3 advantage, Zherdev picked up his 22nd of the season on a rebound at 9:09. The goal gave Columbus a 2-0 lead.

"We played a very structured game," Chimera said. "Defensively, we did not give them too much and really limited their good chances."

Phoenix cut it to 2-1 midway through the middle period when Mike York scored on the power play at 12:56. For York, that goal was his first since scoring at San Jose on Dec. 20, and his sixth on the season.

The loss left Phoenix 11-12-2 on home ice.

"It just seems like we keep digging ourselves in holes now at home, and that's not good," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "We need to figure out a way to come out quicker and get ahead."

Game notes
The Coyotes' Craig Weller received a match penalty in the first period for intent to injure Ole-Kristian Tollefsen in a fight. During the altercation, Tollefsen sustained a hard shot to the head and did not return. Zherdev's goal was his second in the past eight games.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.