"He was great. He plays well for us every night. He's a big part of our team," defenseman Jack Johnson said of Bobrovsky, who missed 14 games after sustaining a groin injury on Dec. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. "We're slowly getting healthier and healthier. It's great to have your goalie back."
The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goaltender, Bobrovsky starred Monday. But it was a familiar face that forced Columbus to earn two points in the shootout.
Trailing 3-1 after two periods, former Blue Jackets captain Nash completed a third-period comeback with David Savard off for delay of game and the Rangers down 3-2. Nash fired a wrister from the point that eluded a screened Bobrovsky. His second of the night 6:55 into the third gave momentum back to the Rangers.
"We came off a long road trip. The first game back is sometimes tough and you could tell the first couple of periods we were a little rough," Nash said. "But we stuck with it, built some character and got one point. But we don't want to be in that situation in the third period."
In the extra period, Lundqvist kept New York alive with a sharp glove save off an Atkinson one-timer with 1:43 left in the extra period. Derek Stepan took an interference penalty 33 seconds later, but Columbus could not capitalize on the 4-on-3 advantage.
New York's third-period comeback followed a second period that couldn't have gone much worse for the Rangers.
Deadlocked 1-1 after 20 minutes, momentum shifted Columbus' way when Chris Kreider received a five-minute boarding penalty and game misconduct after knocking Fedor Tyutin into the boards 21 seconds into the second. With Tyutin writhing in pain on the ice, Dubinsky intervened and was whistled for roughing, but the Rangers would still be without one of their top contributors. Tyutin returned for a brief shift before exiting the game with a lower-body injury, leaving Columbus with five defensemen.
"Missing Tyuts, that hurts. He's a great player. Really, all that means is you get more ice time," Johnson said. "It's just something you have to deal with. It's part of a contact sport. Sometimes that's going to happen."
Johnson was certainly the beneficiary of extra ice time. The veteran defenseman led all players with 31:35, his highest total since he played 34:13 in a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 5, 2013.
"That was one of the best games I've ever seen him play," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "To me he was a man tonight when you needed him to be."
Columbus took the lead before it even had a chance to start the power play. Playing 4-on-4, Atkinson stole the puck at his blue line, outraced Anton Stralman to the Rangers net and deked to his backhand, then back to his forehand before beating Lundqvist between his legs for his 11th goal. Atkinson's all-out effort 1:01 into the second put Columbus ahead, 2-1.
Shortly after killing a high-sticking penalty to Nick Foligno, Columbus struck again. Dubinsky led the rush down the left wing and lofted a pass to a trailing Wisniewski. The defenseman beat Lundqvist blocker side with a wrist shot to give the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead with 3:13 remaining in the second period.
"I beat my guy from my goal line. I knew I had a couple of steps on him. So I yelled out 'two.' That means there's another guy coming. He [Dubinsky] put a great area pass into it and I skated into it," Wisniewski said. "I had to reach for it just a little bit. Then I went high blocker side."
Boyle started the comeback 4:53 into the third after Dominic Moore's shot was blocked in front of the Columbus net. Moving toward the crease, Boyle found the loose puck and beat Bobrovsky for his third of the season before slamming his stick against the glass in celebration.
The comeback marked the fifth time in New York's past 11 games that it had to overcome a third-period deficit to tie the game.
"In my estimation, we deserved to be in a better situation than down by two," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We made a pretty strong comeback, but I thought we deserved to be in a better situation. Our guys worked really hard and we got a point."
Columbus opened the scoring with 2:53 remaining in the first. J.T. Miller's weak clearing attempt was barely kept in by Wisniewski, whose point shot was deflected in by Dubinsky while the former Ranger stood directly to Lundqvist's right.
"When you've got a goalie like Hank back there, he's going to stop the straight shots. It's going to be the tips and the rebounds that beat him," said Dubinsky, who made his initial return to MSG on Dec. 12. "Personally, I felt a lot better. I felt a lot more comfortable. The last game was a little bit of a blur."
The Rangers responded when Letestu was called for tripping with 2:24 left in the first. Enjoying a man advantage, Nash circled to the left faceoff dot and snapped a perfect wrist shot that beat Bobrovsky high to the blocker side with 53 seconds left in the period.