VANCOUVER, B.C. – Rick Nash is showing why he is leading the Columbus Blue Jackets toward their first NHL playoff berth in seven years.
The big forward from Brampton, Ont., kept his club in a 6-5 shootout win Sunday over the Vancouver Canucks by scoring once and assisting on two of the first three goals.
Then, in his first game back after missing four with a knee injury, he fired the clinching goal in the shootout.
“He’s impressive, the way he handles the puck and can take it to the net,” said new teammate Jason Williams, who also scored in regulation and the shootout.
“To see it first hand and be on the same team, he’s a very special player and he carries this team. There’s a reason he’s the captain, he’s not the most vocal guy, but he leads by example and his work ethic and he did both tonight.”
Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock called it a bizzare game between two teams struggling to make the playoffs.
“It was a really bizzare game,” Hitchcock said after both clubs blew two-goal leads. “We had no legs today and we were struggling.
“(Netminder Steve Mason) held us in in the third period when it got 5-5, I didn’t know what was going to happen but he held us together. Quite frankly, neither team’s defencemen could control the other team’s forwards.”
With all-star goalie Roberto Luongo playing for the Canucks and rookie Mason, who came in with an NHL-leading 1.81 goals-against average, the teams combined for 10 goals over 60 minutes.
“The two best goalies in the league … it’s kind of funny how that happens but it was nice to come out on top,” said Nash whose club is ninth in the Western Conference, a point away from a post-season berth.
And Williams, acquired last week in a trade with the Atlanta Thrashers, got the first shootout goal with his right eye half shut from an accidental high stick.
“I came in and had a move in mind I wanted to do,” Williams said with a laugh.
“The key is making the goaltender commit to you. I felt Luongo bit on the fake shot and I got to my backhand and got it over him.”
Nash, who leads Columbus in scoring, just wanted to get his shootout attempt on net.
“I thought if I score, we win and I had to get a shot off, not a deke and miss and not even get a chance. I just went down and kind of saw a little on the low blocker.”
Mason stopped Kyle Wellwood and saw Mats Sundin shoot wide as the Canucks set a club record for futility by losing their seventh straight at home.
That eclipsed the previous mark set in 1970-71, their inaugural season, and equalled in 1978.
Manny Malhotra, Mike Commodore and Raffi Torres scored for Columbus in regulation. Taylor Pyatt, Sundin, Steve Bernier, Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa replied for Vancouver.
Columbus won for the eighth time in 11 games to improve to 22-19-4.
For the Canucks, it didn’t seem to matter that Luongo is back after 24 games with a groin strain or Sundin, the club’s big free-agent signing, is rounding into shape after scoring his second goal in six games.
Vancouver, once the Northwest Division leader, dropped to 22-19-6 and clubs with games in hand are threatening to bump the Canucks from a playoff spot.
“Obviously, we all know Roberto can play better … a key ingredient to the success of our team,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.
Sundin said the Canucks have to get tighter defensively.
“We have players that can put the puck in the net and score goals,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we play even better defence than we did tonight, and we’ll get our chances to score”.
“Even though we got down in the third, we found a way to battle back and earn a point. Obviously, shootout is important, but it’s tough to predict what is going to happen in a shootout.”
NOTES: The Canucks played their 3,000th game since entering the NHL in 1970 … Vancouver defenceman Mattias Ohlund was cut on the leg on his third shift but returned for the second period … team mate Pavol Demitra left the game with a groin strain … Canuck Ryan Kesler and Jacket R.J. Umberger, former Ohio State teammates, fought in the first period while Canuck Darcy Hordichuk and Jared Boll exchanged punches in the second … the Canucks play the NHL-leading Sharks in San Jose on Tuesday, their last game before the all-star break … Canuck defenceman Sami Salo is expected to play in that one after missing 15 games with a cracked rib.