COLUMBUS, Ohio - In his first return to Nationwide Arena, where he played for 10 years, Rick Nash led the Rangers past the Blue Jackets, 3-1, last night -- not with goals, but with determination and passion that included a scuffle with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and a fight in the third period.
In the two incidents that fired up his teammates, the generally cool and composed Nash retaliated after Bobrovsky twice whacked his stick after a waved-off goal. Nash also 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 and fired high past Henrik Lundqvist at 1:12. But 44 seconds later, Derek Stepan beat Bobrovsky (29 saves) to tie the score at 1. Derick Brassard then scored the winner, curling from behind the net and backhanding a shot off Bobrovsky at 11:31. Carl Hagelin's empty-netter sealed it with 38.7 seconds left as the Rangers moved into sole possession of third place in the Metro Division, two points ahead of Columbus.
"Rick led by leadership tonight, showed some emotion and character, wanted to win," said Brassard, another former Blue Jacket who was dealt to the Rangers. "We don't want him to fight every game, but things happen."
Tempers were on edge from the opening faceoff. After defenseman John Moore was drilled into the boards by Blake Comeau, Pouliot fought 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.
Things ramped up when an apparent goal was waved off. On Nash's rush, he was bumped into Bobrovsky by Jack Johnson and the puck slid into the net at 17:06 of the second period. 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," Nash said. "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 slewfoot 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 had 25 saves, said he contemplated confronting 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."