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Nash, Rangers visit Blue Jackets in key game

by John Kreiser

RANGERS (37-29-4) at BLUE JACKETS (36-27-6)


Last 10: New York 4-5-1; Columbus 7-2-1

Season series: The New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets are playing for the fourth and final time. The road team has won each of the first three, with the Rangers winning their previous trip to Nationwide Arena on Nov. 7 and the Blue Jackets winning twice at Madison Square Garden.

Big story: Rick Nash was the face of the Blue Jackets for a decade, but he'll be wearing the wrong-colored sweater when he steps onto the ice for one of the biggest games in his former franchise's history. Columbus is seeking its second trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since entering the NHL in 2001, and the Blue Jackets and Rangers are even with 78 points. Columbus is third in the Metropolitan Division; the Rangers, who've played one more game, own the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Team Scope:

Rangers: Nash was the Blue Jackets' captain and a 40-goal scorer when Columbus made its only other trip to the playoffs; the Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round in 2009. Columbus traded him to New York in July 2012. The teams didn't play last season, and he was sidelined with a concussion when the Rangers came to town in November, though he did play against his former team in the two games in New York.

Nash will receive a video tribute and have plenty of friends and family in the audience, though he's not certain what kind of greeting he'll receive.

"I'm not sure what to expect," he said after practice Thursday. "Me and the fans here have been through so much together, so if I get cheers, great; if I get boos -- and I'm sure there will be some -- I will move on from that.

"Obviously, it's the first time being here since the trade, and there's a lot of excitement for me coming back to play in front of the fans I played in front of for 10 years. There are a lot of good memories here, a lot of friends made. Of course the most important thing is the two points."

Blue Jackets: Columbus didn't have long to enjoy its 3-2 road victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, not with Nash and the Rangers waiting for them less than 24 hours later.

The Blue Jackets survived an 0-for-8 night by their power play in Montreal and went home with the win thanks to Ryan Johansen's breakaway goal with 3:01 remaining in the third period. Johansen picked off Jarred Tinordi's pass attempt in the neutral zone, raced in and beat Carey Price for his 27th goal on Columbus' 39th shot of the game.

The Blue Jackets have outshot their opponents 87-47 in their past two games.

"We're a team that just keeps coming," Johansen said. "We're a bunch of little rats; we're just in your face the whole game. That's our identity, and we've been doing a good job of sticking with that in the second part of this year for sure. I'm really happy with the way the guys played tonight and have been playing as of late."

Who's hot: Nash and center Derick Brassard, another former Blue Jacket, are coming off two-goal performances Tuesday. … Center Brandon Dubinsky, who came from the Rangers in the Nash trade, had a goal Thursday and is second on the team in scoring.

Injury report: The Rangers report no injuries. … Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray (knee) is out.

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