Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen (19) checks New York Rangers' Rick Nash (61) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, March 21, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Mike Munden)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - It wasn't the Columbus homecoming that Rick Nash envisioned.
In the end, though, he said it worked out fine.
Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan scored third-period goals, and Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves to lead the New York Rangers to a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.
"I knew it was going to be a playoff atmosphere," Nash said of his return to Columbus, where he starred for nine seasons before asking to be traded. "I wouldn't expect to push their goalie to start a fight and then to be in a fight myself. But the two points were huge. That's what we needed."
Nash, the Columbus franchise leader in goals, assists and games, was given a standing ovation during a video tribute in the first period. He ended up vilified after a second-period, two-handed shove up high on Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
"They gave me my standing ovation. It means a lot," said Nash, who still has a residence in Columbus. "They love their Blue Jackets. We talked (before the game) about it being half boos and half cheers. Then it was 90 per cent boos. But we got the points, so that's what mattered."
Nash said his shove of Bobrovsky was justified because the goalie had whacked at him a couple of times in the first period and then had knocked his stick aside as he went to pick it up.
The Blue Jackets disagreed.
"He took a cheap shot at our goalie," said Matt Calvert, who fought Nash at mid-ice 12 seconds into the third period. "He had to pay for what he did. It was a gutless move."
On a rush, Nash muscled the puck into the net after making contact with Bobrovsky. The goal was disallowed due to goalie interference.
As Nash went to get his stick, Bobrovsky picked it up with his stick and then dropped it as Nash reached for it. Nash then hit Bobrovsky high with both hands, touching off five two-man scuffles and sending Nash to the box for roughing.
Brassard, who played his first five NHL seasons with the Blue Jackets, broke a 1-1 tie with a nifty goal with 8:29 remaining.
He corralled a pass along the back wall from defenceman Anton Stralman, who had two assists, and flipped the puck between his legs to the doorstep. Brassard then pivoted and jammed a shot in off Bobrovsky's pad.
"I was just trying to put the puck in front of the net," said Brassard, traded to New York in the Blue Jackets' deadline deal for Marian Gaborik a year ago. "I caught him off guard. I was just happy to put it in."
Carl Hagelin added an empty-net goal for the Rangers, who moved two points ahead of the Blue Jackets in the tight Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference playoff races.
Lundqvist called it "the biggest game for us this year."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said both teams were emotional.
"It was like a playoff game," he said. "There was a lot of chippiness out there. Everybody was fighting for every inch, and we found a way to win the game."
Both teams came in with 78 points, the third most in the Metropolitan. The Blue Jackets have played one fewer game.
Lundqvist was energized by watching Nash tangle with Bobrovsky and then Calvert.
"I got really fired up. I got mad," he said of watching Nash trade punches with the much smaller Calvert. "I thought, 'We're beating this team now. There's no way we're losing.'"
Nick Foligno scored for Columbus, 7-2-2 in its last 11 games. Bobrovsky made 29 saves.
After two scoreless periods, Columbus took a 1-0 lead when Foligno intercepted Benoit Pouilot's pass and scored his 18th goal of the season with a wrist shot from the high slot at 1:12.
Just 44 seconds later, the Rangers countered when Ryan McDonagh carried the puck along the back wall and then fed Stepan for his 14th goal.
That set the stage for Brassard's go-ahead goal. Lundqvist turned away several prime scoring chances in the final moments.
"There were lots of things I liked about this game," said Columbus coach Todd Richards, whose team had won 3-2 on Thursday night in Montreal. "I was disappointed by the result, but I thought our guys in tough circumstances played a hard game. They were physical, they stood up for each other. It wasn't easy and we were right in it all the way to the end."
By the end, of course, every time Nash touched the puck most of the crowd of 18,513 was booing loudly. Quite a difference from the opening minutes—and the days before he asked to be traded—when they stood and cheered him.
"It was a great game, a lot of fun," Nash said. "But I'm definitely glad it's over."
NOTES: Former Columbus RW Derek Dorsett was a late addition to the Rangers lineup in place of Daniel Carcillo, who was a healthy scratch. ... The Rangers are 6-5-1 since the Olympic break, 18-10-2 in 2014. ... The Rangers had been in Columbus since early Wednesday morning. ... New York D John Moore left after a hard check from Blake Comeau. He returned, but will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
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