COLUMBUS, Ohio – One goal was lucky, one was special.
Rick Nash scored twice in the final minutes to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
“We stuffed him the whole night—until he scores a goal behind the goal line,” disgusted Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
The decisive goal came with just over our minutes left, snapping a 1-1 tie.
Nash carried the puck over the blue line before losing it under pressure. From the deep right corner, he spun and fired a shot at the net. The puck glanced off the left skate of a surprised Henrik Lundqvist and into the net.
“It was a lucky play,” said Nash, who also set the Blue Jackets’ record by playing in his 544th game with the team. “Good things happen usually when you fire it on net. I just thought I would.”
His second goal was a thing of beauty.
The Rangers pulled Lundqvist for an extra attacker with just over a minute left. He was halfway to the bench when Nash poked the puck free from a defenceman at centre ice. Lundqvist scrambled back to the crease just before Nash avoided a sliding defender as he swooped in. Nash faked the forehand, with Lundqvist’s momentum taking him to the edge of the crease. The big forward then pulled the puck back and pushed it in with his outstretched stick.
“Rick made two great plays that goal-scorers make,” said Columbus coach Scott Arniel, in his first year with the club. “I knew he was a great player, but his work ethic and his compete (are great). I’ve noticed that he gets real upset when we don’t win and don’t play the way we can.”
Nash had his fourth multi-goal game of the season. He also assisted on Antoine Vermette’s tying power-play goal in the second period.
The victory was badly needed by the Blue Jackets, whose crowds have dwindled because of their poor play at home on weekends. They had had been 0-6 at home in weekend games, outscored 28-10.
Steve Mason stopped 32 shots for Columbus, which had lost six of seven.
“I was pretty happy,” Mason said. “They have some pretty big guys up front. For the most part I thought we did a good job of pushing them to the side and making sure the shot lanes were pretty clear.”
Marc Staal had the lone goal for the Rangers, who got 20 saves from Henrik Lundqvist. They came in with the NHL’s best road record (11-4).
Tortorella was upset that the Rangers played so hard and so well, yet came away with nothing.
“It’s frustrating. I have to admit that,” he said. “We played probably one of our better games—even in games that we won. Everybody contributed and it’s a tough way to lose.”
Nash has laboured for eight years in Columbus since being taken No. 1 in the 2002 draft. He has won a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, for leading the league in goals (in 2003-04), but has for the most part been on mediocre to bad teams. Only once have the Blue Jackets made it to the post-season—three years ago—and they were swept in the first round by Detroit.
But he said he felt a loyalty to the city and team that had shown so much loyalty to him. He is in the first year of an eight-year contract that will pay him US$62.4 million.
“It’s a great milestone,” he said of his record. “I’ve invested a lot in this franchise and they’ve invested even a lot more in me. To be the leader in games played means a lot to me—and it means a lot to the fans and the club.”
NOTES: F Tom Sestito made his season debut for Blue Jackets after trading places with former No. 1 draft pick Nikita Filatov, who was sent to AHL Springfield on Friday. … The Rangers had won seven of 10 overall and five of six on the road. They had won four straight away games. … Nash broke David Vyborny’s mark for games played with the Blue Jackets. Vyborny was on the team from 2000-08. … Columbus is off to its best start in franchise history (16-11-1).