Battling Rick Nash sparks 3-1 win in return to Columbus

           What a night in Columbus.

           In his first return to Nationwide Arena, where he had played for ten years, Rick Nash led the Rangers past the Blue Jackets 3-1 Friday, not with goals, but with determination and passion that included a scuffle with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and a full-blown fight in the third period.   

             In the two incidents that fired up his teammates, who reclaimed third place in the Metro Division with the two points, the generally cool and composed Nash retaliated after Bobrovsky twice whacked his stick after a waved-off goal and dropped the gloves with Matt Calvert.

           “I knew it was going to be a playoff atmosphere,” said Nash, who received a standing ovation during a first-period video tribute, but was booed throughout the game. “I wouldn’t expect to push a goalie to start a fight and then have a fight myself. It was a great game, but I’m definitely glad it’s over.”

           After a scoreless, chippy 40 minutes and Nash’s fight with Calvert 12 seconds into the third, Nick Foligno scooped up a pass off Benoit Pouliot’s broken stick in the Rangers zone and fired high past Henrik Lundqvist at 1:12. But 44 seconds later, Derek Stepan responded, beating Bobrovsky (29 saves) to tie the game at 1. Derick Brassard then scored the winner, curling from behind the net at the left post, and backhanding a quick shot off the side of Bobrovsky at 11:31. Carl Hagelin’s empty-netter sealed it with 38.7 seconds left.   

           “Rick led by leadership tonight, showed some emotion and character, wanted to win,” said Brassard, another former Blue Jacket who also was dealt to the Rangers. “We don’t want him to fight every game, but things happen. When the game’s on the line and your best player is showing emotion like that, it just lifts the team. Our whole bench was standing.”   

         Tempers were on edge from the opening faceoff, and the Jackets, who had beaten the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday. came out physical. When defenseman John Moore was drilled into the end boards by Blake Comeau, Benoit Pouliot dropped the gloves with Derek Mackenzie at 8:09. Moore briefly returned in the second but did not come out for the third and will be re-evaluated Sunday, coach Alain Vigneault said. Mats Zuccarello also was hammered by Fedor Tyutin, drawing a penalty at 18:27 of the first.

            Things ramped up when an apparent goal was waved off on Nash’s rush, when he was bumped into Bobrovsky by Jack Johnson and the puck slid into the net at 17:06 of the second period . But the officials waved it off and when Nash got to his feet, Bobrovsky prompted Nash to shove him, high and hard.

           “I got two whacks…then I go to pick up my stick and he flings it away,” said Nash. “You’ve got to own up when you do something like that. I had to own up too, I pushed him and took my end of the bargain. You know, it’s part of the game. He’s an emotional guy, I’m sure, and he’s trying to get into the game and I’m trying to get my team into the game and it’s hockey.”

            Asked what triggered his fight with Calvert, Nash said: “Probably the two crosschecks to the head, the slew-foot and the fact that he said he’s going at me, no matter what, he doesn’t care. That’s enough to set me off.” 

           So mark this game down as the first real showdown in a budding rivalry, one that could continue in the playoffs if both teams make the cut. 

           Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves, said he contemplated going down ice to confront Bobrovsky during the first scrum, “but he skated away and I skated away, if the other guy gets involved and you have more guys going at it, I guess I have to do something. I didn’t have to tonight…lucky him.”

            As for Nash’s fight, Lundqvist said: “I got really fired up, I got mad…I said, ‘We’re beating this team now, there’s no way we lose against a team that’s gonna fight our guy''. Nasher was playing a great game, a physical game, it was fun to see…He had to fight but he did a great job.”

               Said Vigneault: “I don’t know how many free whacks you can get at a player, probably anywhere from five to 10, and both players get seven minutes. At the end of the day, you’ve got to fight through that stuff and he did.”

            And partly because of it, the Rangers (38-29-4) flew back home with 80 points and in third place in the Metro Division with 11 to play; the Jackets (37-27-6) have 78 and a game in hand. The Rangers visit the Devils on Saturday.

             “Obviously everybody knew what these two points meant to each team,” said Ryan McDonagh, “and we did a good job of maintaining focus. When it got physical there, we responded when we needed, we took a lot of hits to make plays.  Everybody was exceeding their limits and exceeding their roles, both defensively and offensively. That’s what you need this time of year.”

 

 

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