COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets needed their captain to make a big play. Rick Nash responded a big way.
Nash scored two third-period goals in his return from an injury that sidelined him four games, and the Blue Jackets overcame a two-goal deficit Friday night to hand the Minnesota Wild a costly 4-2 loss.
“(Nash) obviously made a big difference tonight,” said goalie Mathieu Garon, who moved to 6-0-3 at home this season while making 18 saves. “He’s a great leader and he showed it again. In the third, he took care of things.”
The Wild came into the game in 11th place and six points behind eighth-place Detroit in the Western Conference playoff race. Instead of getting two points, they came away with none after blowing leads of 2-0 in the second period and 2-1 with 9 minutes left.
“It was definitely a disappointing loss,” said Minnesota centre Casey Wellman, who made his NHL debut. “They ended up getting a few good chances that they capitalized on.”
Long eliminated from the playoff picture themselves, the Blue Jackets have to take heart in ruining the post-season hopes of others.
“We’re making the right moves. Obviously, it’s a bit late,” Nash said of the Blue Jackets, undone by a bad spell in which they won just three times in 24 games midway through the season. “Momentum from the end of this year can really carry on to next year.”
It was just the third time the Blue Jackets have won this season (3-22-4) when trailing through two periods.
“The motivation is playing for the fans – making sure we make things exciting for them,” Nash said.
Nash’s shootout-like goal came just 27 seconds after Kris Russell tied it. Nash, who was sidelined with a lower-body injury, then added an empty-netter in the final minute. Kristian Huselius also scored for Columbus, which has won four of five.
Mikko Koivu and Chuck Kobasew had goals for the Wild, who have dropped two in a row after a three-game winning streak.
Trailing 2-1 with 8:58 left, the Blue Jackets pulled even on a play that infuriated the Wild. Huselius left a drop pass for Russell, who was trailing the play, and his hard slap shot slipped past R.J. Umberger, who was providing traffic in front of goalie Josh Harding.
“It was a great play by (Huselius). He kind of looked toward the net and got everybody thinking he was going there, and then just laid it nice and flat for me to walk into it,” Russell said. “It was a great job by R.J. getting the screen. I don’t think the goalie had too much of a chance to see it.”
But the Wild felt Umberger interfered with Harding.
“If you watch it on tape, Umberger skates in and he’s in the crease,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “Josh goes to make the save and he’s not allowed to. They said that (Nick Schultz) had made contact with (Umberger), but when you watch it, you can see that (Umberger) skated in there all by himself.”
Harding was perplexed by the non-call.
“Maybe I need to read the rule book and see what is considered goalie interference,” he said. “I had nowhere to go.”
Before the tying goal could be announced, Nash took a pass from Jake Voracek in the neutral zone – while defenceman Cam Barker was heading to the bench to get a replacement stick. With no one close, Nash skated in on Harding, faked and then scored on a soft shot that went between Harding’s leg pads.
The Wild, who dropped to 22-7-2 when scoring first, grabbed a 2-0 lead on goals by Mikko Koivu and Chuck Kobasew.
Umberger made a huge play late in the second period. Garon was down and out of position with Wellwood bearing down on him, but Umberger was able to block the puck with his skates to Garon, who covered it.
NOTES: The Blue Jackets wrapped up a four-game homestand. … Minnesota is 7-6-0 in the second half of back-to-back games. … Since both clubs joined the NHL in the 2000-2001 season, Columbus is 276-356-33-62 with one playoff appearance and Minnesota is 327-285-55-59 with three trips to the playoffs. … Wild D Justin Falk, making his NHL debut, suffered a concussion in the second period and didn’t return. … Columbus C Andrew Murray appeared to hurt a knee late in the game and went to the dressing room.