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Nash, Mason star as Blue Jackets shut out Thrashers

By Phil Foley

PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Captain Rick Nash's continued hot play

helped rookie goaltender Steve Mason record his first career

shutout.

Nash extended his goal-scoring streak to five games with a

backhanded tally in the first period and set up another goal,

leading the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 2-0 blanking of the

listless Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday.

Mason turned aside 15 shots and R.J. Umberger added an empty-net

goal for Columbus, which has won five of eight.

"Anytime you hold a team to (15) shots, it's a good night," Blue

Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're really inching towards

being a good team. We're doing some things to get ourselves to

the next level."

Nash has been on fire of late, snapping a nine-game goalless

drought by notching 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his

previous four games.?? He was at it again in this one, netting

the game-winner in an otherwise uneventful game at Philips

Arena.

Midway through the first period, defenseman Ole-Kristian

Tollefsen unleashed a slap shot toward Atlanta netminder Ondrej

Pavelec from the left point.

The shot bounced off the stick of Atlanta blue-liner Ron Hainsey

to Nash. The former Maurice Richard Trophy winner slid a

backhander into the open side of the net at 8:36 to give the

Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead.

"I got very lucky," Nash admitted. "It came onto my stick and I

put it in for the game-winning goal."

Nash also notched an assist on Columbus' second tally, sliding

the puck to Umberger, who shot it into an empty net with 78

seconds remaining in the third.

"Obviously, he's a special player," Blue Jackets defenseman Mike

Commodore said of Nash. "He didn't score a goal for nine games

and people were worried. He's the best player on our team, and

you know it's just a matter of time when you're talented like

that."

Nash returned the compliment to Commodore and the Blue Jackets'

entire defense corps.

"(It's tough to stop Atlanta), especially against a team with

(Ilya) Kovalchuk and (Vyacheslav) Kozlov," Nash said. "We have

to give credit to our defense. They shut them down tonight."

A combination of opportune offense and a defensive unit that

blocked 16 shot attempts was enough to help Mason record his

first NHL shutout.?? The 20-year-old was rarely tested, turning

aside four shots in the first session, five in the second and

six in the third.

"I'm just going to try to take it in stride," Mason said.

"Overall, it was a pretty simple game. The only hard part was

staying focused."

Pavelec wished that his night was that easy. The Czech steered

aside a career-high 29 shots but fell victim to his club's

offensive ineptitude.

"It was a lucky bounce on the first goal," Pavelec said. "It's

a little bit frustrating for us. We have to stay focused and

win as a team."

The Thrashers once again listlessly meandered through the first

two periods in a comatose Philips Arena.

Atlanta, which did not register a shot until more than 11

minutes into the game, looked like it was going through the

motions over the first two sessions, mustering just nine shots

through the first 40 minutes.

The Thrashers have been outshot by a staggering 72-31 margin

over the first two periods of their last three games. Not

surprisingly, they have been on the wrong side of the scoreboard

in all three of those contests.

"I thought our team was a little flat," Atlanta coach John

Anderson said. "We got to play 60 minutes like it's like the

leadoff hitter makes a home run or a double to get the team

started. We need something like that."

Unfortunately for Atlanta, their third period was not much

better.

"We can't come out flat and try to make it up in the third

(period)," Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby said. "We need to

come out hungry to play in the first and not get behind. We are

going to be in big trouble by Christmas for the playoff picture

if we keep this up."

About the only excitement for the home crowd of 15,561 was a

shot by defenseman Niclas Havelid that rattled off the crossbar

in the first period, and a fracas between Exelby and Jared Boll

of the Blue Jackets midway through the second.

Exelby was black-and-blue in the place they call "Blueland"

after that fight as Boll landed a number of punches to the

enforcer's forehead.

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