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Rangers rally in Nash's return to Columbus

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Even though New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash didn't get a point in his anticipated return to Nationwide Arena on Friday, he made a point with his teammates during a 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nash, the former Blue Jackets captain, rode an emotional roller coaster during his first game here since Columbus traded him to New York in July 2012.

He was booed at the start, received a prolonged standing ovation after a video tribute, then became public enemy No. 1 for two skirmishes with Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and a third-period fight with undersized forward Matt Calvert.

"It was a great game, a lot of fun," Nash said. "But I'm definitely glad it's over."

Two other former Blue Jackets had big roles in helping New York (38-29-4) move two points ahead of Columbus (36-28-6) into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Derek Brassard put the Rangers up 2-1 with 8:29 remaining, and defenseman Anton Stralman had an assist on each of the first two goals.

Nick Foligno gave Columbus a 1-0 lead at 1:12 of the third period before Derek Stepan tied the score 44 seconds later.

The Rangers got an empty-net goal from Carl Hagelin, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves, but Brassard said Nash's physical play and willingness to mix it up was an inspiration.

"It shows a lot of character. We loved it," Brassard said. "He's our best player, but when the game's on the line and your best player is showing emotion like that, it lifts the team."

The first period was filled with energy and mixed feelings for Nash, who spent nine seasons with Columbus and is the Blue Jackets' career leader in games played (674), points (547), goals (289) and assists (258).

He was booed during the introduction of the starting lineup and when he had the puck, but by the end of a video tribute with 13:45 to go in the first period, most people stood and cheered although there was further booing.

Nash said he was touched and not surprised by the range of reactions.

"There were boos right when I grabbed the puck, but I still love the Columbus fans," he said. "I stay true to what I say. I appreciate that because they're passionate. They love their hockey.

"I wouldn't expect anything else. They gave me my standing ovation during the video. That means a lot. I'm thankful for that. They love the Blue Jackets."

The booing got louder with 2:54 remaining in the second period when Nash and Bobrovsky tangled for the second time. The goalie dumped Nash in front of the goal during a Rangers power play in the first period, but that was a minor skirmish compared to round two.

Nash had a step on the defense and cut toward the net from the right faceoff circle. He powered his way to the crease and got off a shot before colliding with Bobrovsky.

The puck crossed the goal line but it was immediately waved off for goalie interference. Bobrovsky used his stick to lift Nash's off the ice. As Nash reached for the stick, Bobrovsky knocked it away. Nash then made a two-handed shove to Bobrovsky's mask.

"Did you see me go pick up the stick and I got two whacks in the first period 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."

Nash was heartily booed when he was escorted to the penalty box, and the result was a Blue Jackets power play on which they failed to score for the 29th straight time over the past eight games.

"We need to focus on where our power play needs to be," Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky said. "It could have been the difference today. We've got to figure it out and figure it out quick."

Nash explained why he and Calvert fought 12 seconds into the third period.

"The two crosschecks to the head, the slew foot and the fact that he said he's going with me no matter what," said Nash, 6-foot-4, 213 pounds. "He didn't care. That was enough to set me off."

Calvert offered a different explanation.

"He took a cheap shot at our goalie and we really didn't have a chance to respond because the linesmen jumped in," said Calvert, 5-foot-11, 187 pounds. "I had a chance right at the start of the third period to get the boys going. He had to pay for what he did. It was a gutless move. I'm glad it happened, but it's a disappointing loss."

Brassard scored his 16th of the season with a wraparound between the left post and Bobrovsky's pad.

"I was trying to put the puck in front," Brassard said. "I caught him off guard. He was not on his post."

New York coach Alain Vigneault was pleased with the response after Columbus took the lead.

"We showed a lot of mental toughness in this game," he said. "Both teams know what's at stake. It's a playoff game. There was a lot of chippiness out there."

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