(AP) - Rick Nash
just missed his first career hat trick on an empty-net attempt that was blocked. It was the only time the St. Louis Blues stopped him.
Nash kept up a late-season charge with two goals and backup goalie Pascal Leclaire had a strong game, helping the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the slumping Blues 4-2 Friday night.
"He had a real tough year at the start with all of the injuries he had," coach Gerard Gallant said. "I think he's rounding into top shape right now. It's nice to see his complete game."
The Blues lost their ninth in a row despite a 30-20 shots advantage, a day after losing captain Dallas Drake for the season. They've also lost goalie Curtis Sanford and defenseman Barret Jackman to season-ending injuries this month, and have been outscored 39-15 during the skid since beating the Blue Jackets on March 13.
"This is unbelievable," forward Keith Tkachuk said. "You don't want to use excuses, but it's a big part of it. We're missing some NHL-caliber players."
Jaroslav Balastik and Jason Chimera also had goals for Columbus, which has won four in a row including victories over the Calgary and Detroit after losing four straight.
Tkachuk and Jamal Mayers scored for the Blues.
Nash has 26 goals in 45 games, including six goals and three assists in the last six games. The Blue Jackets, out of the playoff picture, are 21-18-3 since Nash returned from a knee injury in mid-December and are 4-2-1 against the Blues with one meeting left.
Leclaire, a 2001 first-round pick who's been alternating with Marc Denis, made 28 saves. He had several nice stops, thwarting Lee Stempniak on a point-blank rebound with a glove save in the first period, and stretching his left pad to stymie Timofei Shishkanov alone in front midway through the third.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Leclaire said. "We won a lot of battles in front of the net and on the boards and I think that's why we won."
The Blue Jackets spotted the Blues a 1-0 lead on Tkachuk's 14th goal on a rebound, the second shot of the game, before taking control. Balastik's 11th tied it midway through the first, and Chimera's 16th on a rebound gave them the lead at 4:29 of the second.
"We knew that this goalie kicks out rebounds, so we wanted to shoot from all angles and drive to the net, and it worked on the first goal," Tkachuk said. "You can't let a team skate like that."
Nash made it a two-goal gap when he beat Patrick Lalime with a high wrist shot from the slot at 16:30 of the second. He got his second goal of the game on a power play early in the third period, swooping in on Lalime and beating him to the far side when the goalie hugged the post.
Nash was stopped in an attempt for a hat trick into an empty net in the final seconds when Christian Backman blocked his shot.
"You don't like to score an empty-netter for the third, but you'll definitely take it," Nash said. "It'll come sooner or later."
Mayers got his 11th goal at 10:39 and first since Dec. 31, knocking down the puck in front and then swatting in a backhander. Mayers missed 13 games with a broken foot from early February to mid-March.