Nashville Predators\' J.P. Dumont (71) battles Columbus Blue Jackets\' Grant Clitsome (14) for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb 22, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets hope to replicate their strong road play at home down the stretch to propel them into the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history.
They're off to a good start.
Steve Mason made 20 saves for his 18th NHL shutout and Nash scored two of Columbus' four third-period goals to lift the Blue Jackets to a 4-0 victory over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.
"I think that's one of the big reasons why we're winning on the road," said Nash, where the Blue Jackets have won six straight, a franchise record. "You get the forecheck established. You get lots of turnovers. We haven't really had that game at home very much. I think tonight was the first time it was really evident."
Nash, Matt Calvert and Antoine Vermette scored in a 8:38 span early in the third to help the Blue Jackets move within two points of eighth place in the Western Conference.
The game was tightly played through two periods in Nationwide Arena where the Blue Jackets are only 15-13-2 this season, but 7-1-2 in the past 10 games against Nashville.
"We had to be patient against a team like this," said Mason, who has shut out the Predators twice this season and is 12-4-1 in his past 17 starts. "I think they are one of the top two defensive teams in the league. We knew we were going to have to be patient for our goals to come. For myself, it was just to stay focused and make sure to make timely saves."
Fedor Tyutin and Kris Russell each added two assists for upstart Columbus, 10-3-3 in its past 16 games.
"The whole game had a playoff atmosphere to it—the first two periods were kind of a slugfest," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. "We brought that road game that we were playing ... and we did a lot of those things that we had been doing on the road."
Nashville, which entered the night as the fifth-place team in the West, has hit a patch of inconsistent play. They have lost three of four after winning three of four.
Pekka Rinne, who brought the NHL's second-best goals-against average at 2.10, made 26 saves, including a toe stop on R.J. Umberger's breakaway in the second period, but things quickly fell apart in the third.
"We had too many turnovers and a lot of it was just soft on the puck," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They kept forechecking and I don't think we managed after the first goal."
Nash broke through early in the period. He took the puck at centre ice, fended off Kevin Klein along the right side and beat Rinne with a backhand-to-forehand move. The Blue Jackets are 16-3-3 when Nash scores a goal.
Then working on the man advantage a few minutes later, a dump-in by Russell popped off the end boards with Rinne out from his net to play the puck and it instead came right to Calvert, who had an easy empty net shot for his sixth goal.
Vermette made it 3-0 with his 15th at 9:49, finishing off a nice passing combination from Grant Clitsome at the point to Russell at the left circle to Vermette for a redirection from the crease.
"We talked about the importance of how we play on the road," Vermette said. "Basically what we did was play well defensively without the puck and try and play the little details right and stick to the system."
Nash snapped home his second of the game, on the power play, at 19:09 for his team-leading 29th goal of the season.
The Blue Jackets outshot Nashville 13-3 in the final period.
"You have to love this time of year," Arniel said. "The intensity around the league. You're watching everybody and everybody is on pins and needles, jockeying for (playoff) spots. It's what the players live to play for."
Notes: The game was the first of six of eight on the road for Nashville. ... Columbus welcomed RW Derek Dorsett, out three games with a head injury, back into the lineup while LW Kristian Huselius was scratched with a lower-body injury. ... The Predators were without D Ryan Suter, who suffered an upper-body injury Saturday but is expected to return Thursday and injured LW Sergei Kostitsyn, the team's second-leading scorer. ... D Jonathon Blum, Nashville's 2007 first-round pick, made his NHL debut.