By Jerry Brown | NHL.com Correspondent
GLENDALE -- No longer the subject of a League-wide trade watch, Columbus captain Rick Nash deflated the Coyotes with two goals early and a huge steal and diving set up of linemate Derek Brassard to ice the game in the third period as the Blue Jackets beat Phoenix, 5-2, at Jobing.com Arena on Saturday night.
The Coyotes (33-23-9), who were 11-0-1 in February, have now lost two straight games to open the month of March and are 0-2-0 against Columbus, aka the League’s worst team this season. The two teams will play again in Columbus on Tuesday, but Phoenix first has to face the red-hot Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday.
Despite the loss, the Coyotes remain in first place in the Pacific Division standings, two points ahead of second-place San Jose, which lost, 3-1, to St. Louis on Saturday night.
Ray Whitney and Lauri Korpikoski wiped out an early 2-0 deficit for Phoenix, with captain Shane Doan setting up both goals. But after collecting 23 of 24 points in February, the first four up for grabs in March have slipped away.
Almost 30 points behind the playoff teams and after trading several top players at the deadline, the Blue Jackets are playing relaxed and more open down the stretch against teams that need every last point for playoff position. They built a 2-0 lead on the road for the second time in as many games but had to dial up a few more late after the Coyotes rallied.
"Everyone knows we’re out of the playoffs, but we've set goals for ourselves for these last 18 games," said Brassard, who has six points in his last six games. "It shows a lot that guys are showing character and still trying to beat teams. We're trying to get ready for next season and try to finish the season strong."
Nash has six goals in his last seven games and continues to wear out the Coyotes. He now has 17 goals and 33 points in 32 career games against Phoenix. Steve Mason backed up his shutout in Colorado on Thursday with 30 saves on Saturday.
Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin snapped a 2-2 tie with his second straight game-winning goal with 10:48 left in regulation (see KEY MOMENT below). Brassard followed with his goal set up when Nash scooped up Keith Yandle's turnover behind the Phoenix net and, while heading to the ice, swatted a feed out in front.
Colton Gillies added an empty-net tally with 59.1 seconds left. The Blue Jackets (20-38-7) had been outscored 80-43 in the third period this year before getting three unanswered Saturday.
The game pitted the League's worst power play from Phoenix (13.3 percent) against the worst penalty kill from Columbus (76 percent), and the Blue Jackets won the first battle between the units decisively.
Nash corralled a flip-pass from Derek MacKenzie in the neutral zone, muscled Whitney for a partial breakaway and beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith to the top-right corner for his second shorthanded goal of the season at 16:21 of the first period.
It was the second shorthanded goal allowed by the Coyotes in the last two games and the 10th first-period goal they have allowed in the last six games – they have been outscored 10-2 over that span.
"We're just not good enough," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We have the emotional engagement that we can bring in for short minutes … why can't we have that the whole time? That's puzzling for our group right now."
|Photo by Getty Images.
Nash struck again early in the second period, when Brassard sent him down the ice with a pass at the Columbus blueline. Nash flashed by one Coyote, fought off chops and swats from defenseman Chris Summers from behind and put a shot around Smith just before they all tumbled into the Phoenix net.
Down at least 2-0 for the fourth time in the last five games, the Coyotes turned it on again with goals 5:22 apart in the second period to get even. Gillies took exception to a big neutral-zone hit by Summers and drew a roughing penalty before the two hooked up for a fight.
Phoenix defenseman David Rundblad – called up from Portland to help the laboring power play – put a shot on goal that Columbus goalie Steve Mason stopped, but didn't control. Doan grabbed the rebound and sent a no-look, behind-the-back to Whitney, who had half a net to deposit his 20th goal at 8:18.
Doan manufactured the game-tying goal as well. He took the puck away from Nash in the Phoenix zone, chugged down the left side and put a hard shot on net. Mason made a pad save, but Korpikoski flew down the slot and banked the rebound off Mason for his 14th goal to put Phoenix back even.
The Coyotes came hard to start the third period but Mason made big saves on Doan, Boyd Gordon and Rundblad, and the Columbus offense took over from there.
► EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Vest of phoenixcoyotes.com edited this story and compiled this recap.
Tied 2-2 in the third period, Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger won a faceoff back to Nikita Nikitin, whose shot from the point hit a teammate and then Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival
and was directed down and by Coyotes goalie Mike Smith
► Click here
to see the KEY MOMENT
• Defenseman David Rundblad
played 17:15 and notched an assist after being recalled
from the American Hockey League on Saturday. Rundblad played 4:45 on the power play and finished with five shots on goal. The game was Rundblad's third for the Coyotes - and his first on home ice - since he came to the team after a trade with Ottawa in December. Rundblad has one assist in each of his first three games with Phoenix.
• Center Gilbert Brule
returned to the lineup after missing four games because of an upper-body injury. He played 8:04 and took one shot on goal.
• Center Antoine Vermette
played his first game against Columbus since coming to the Coyotes via a trade with the Blue Jackets last month. Vermette played 15:24 and was minus-3.
• Center Martin Hanzal
delivered seven of the team's 23 hits.
• Defenseman Chris Summers
payed 14:15, delivered three hits and took part in his first NHL fight with Columbus forward Colton Gillies in the second period. “I’m not surprised he fought, sometimes that happens in our game," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippet said. "I like the fact that Shane Doan
went out and finished a check (and Chris) Summers went out and finished a check. That was the only time you could really see our group engage in what we were trying to do out there. So in that end of it, I liked it. I liked what he did, not so much the fighting but the emotional engagement to do something about it.”
• What follows is the official ruling from the NHL regarding Rick's Nash's second goal:
"At 5:18 of the second period in the Blue Jackets/Coyotes game, the Toronto situation room initiated a review because Rick Nash's shot crossed the goal line. Video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck crossed the goal line prior to the net becoming dislodged. Good Goal Columbus."
• The Coyotes played minus injured forward Kyle Chipchura
(upper-body) and injured defensemen Rostislav Klesla
(upper-body) and David Schlemko
(lower-body). The Coyotes also played minus defenseman Derek Morris, who has taken a leave of absence because of a family illness.
• The Coyotes scratched Paul Bissonnette
and Michael Stone
• The Coyotes' next game is Monday at the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center
. The puck drops at 5 p.m. (Arizona time). The game can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona and can be heard on XTRA Sports 910 (AM).