Columbus Blue Jackets\' Rick Nash, left, carries the puck as Colorado Avalanche\'s Ryan Wilson defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Feb. 11, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Even with Peter (The Great) Forsberg in the lineup, the Colorado Avalanche continued to be not so great.
Rick Nash scored and then assisted on Derick Brassard's go-ahead goal in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 3-1 win over Colorado on Friday night, spoiling Forsberg's return after three years.
"Too bad we lost," Forsberg said. "It felt like it's the first time I've played in about 11 months, so it was pretty hard. I thought we had a couple chances, but overall it was so-so, actually. I could have played better, but hopefully it gets better one game at a time."
The loss was the sixth in a row for the Avalanche, who dropped to 11-2-0 when leading after a period. Forsberg played 22 shifts totalling 17 1/2 minutes and had one shot on goal.
"You know what? He actually played better than I expected him to," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. "He was arguably our best player tonight."
Since Forsberg was minus-2, that doesn't say much for the rest of the tired Avalanche, who are three games into a four-game road trip.
Nash all but took over the game with two huge plays in the second period.
With the Blue Jackets trailing at the 7:19 mark, he took a nifty cross-ice pass from Voracek and fired it into the net from the bottom of the left circle for his 25th goal of the year.
Later in a chippy, fight-filled period, Colorado goalie Peter Budaj settled the puck behind the net for defenceman John-Michael Liles. But just as Liles began to skate away with it, Nash forced a turnover and centre the puck to Brassard, who skated laterally while waiting for Budaj to slide out of position. He then wristed a shot past the goalie for his 14th of the year.
"It's huge when your centreman drives the net and takes the defence with him," Nash said. "He makes the goalie commit to him, too. It was a great play by Brassard."
Mathieu Garon, making his first start since Jan. 18, won for the first time since Dec. 21 against Calgary. He had 31 saves.
"We played really well," Garon said. "We were disciplined. I think we only had one penalty kill which was huge for us. In the second and third period, we had control of the game. They had shots but we had guys there to clear the rebounds."
Derek MacKenzie added an empty-netter for the Blue Jackets, winners of four of five.
"In the second period our forwards started to get going, we got after their defence, started to create turnovers and obviously got some big goals," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. "That was a good, physical, hard game for 60 minutes."
Former Columbus draft pick Philippe Dupuis scored for the Avalanche, who have been outscored 21-7 during their losing streak. But the bright spot was unquestionably Forsberg.
The 37-year-old former Hart Trophy winner as the NHL's MVP had foot problems when he stepped away from Colorado after the 2007-08 season. After recovering, he played last year in his native Sweden before returning to the Avalanche on Jan. 22. He signed a contract on Sunday and had to iron out some immigration problems before hitting the ice against Columbus.
"He looks good. I think he feels good," linemate Milan Hejduk said, adding he believes Forsberg will be able to play at a high level the rest of the season. "There's no reason to think otherwise."
The game matched two teams with almost identical records struggling to remain in the Western Conference race. Both came into the showdown a few points out of the final qualifying spot.
NOTES: With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, nine teams had scouts at the game. ... Adam Foote, a former Columbus captain who asked to be traded back to the Avalanche, was a scratch with a leg injury. He was loudly booed when the scratches were announced to a crowd of 16,408. ... C Derek MacKenzie played his 100th career NHL game for the Blue Jackets. ... Columbus improved to just 9-26-1-1 against Colorado, which had won the last six meetings—the last three by 5-1 scores.