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Nash nets two as Blue Jackets bust Blues

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rick Nash just missed his first career hat
trick on an empty-net attempt that was blocked. It was the only
time the St. Louis Blues stopped him.

Nash kept up a late-season charge with two goals and backup
goalie Pascal Leclaire had a strong game, helping the Columbus Blue
Jackets beat the slumping Blues 4-2 Friday night.

"He had a real tough year at the start with all of the injuries
he had," coach Gerard Gallant said. "I think he's rounding into
top shape right now. It's nice to see his complete game."

The Blues lost their ninth in a row despite a 30-20 shots
advantage, a day after losing captain Dallas Drake for the season.
They've also lost goalie Curtis Sanford and defenseman Barret
Jackman to season-ending injuries this month, and have been
outscored 39-15 during the skid since beating the Blue Jackets on
March 13.

"This is unbelievable," forward Keith Tkachuk said. "You
don't want to use excuses, but it's a big part of it. We're missing
some NHL-caliber players."

Jaroslav Balastik and Jason Chimera also had goals for Columbus,
which has won four in a row including victories over the Calgary
and Detroit after losing four straight.

Tkachuk and Jamal Mayers scored for the Blues.

Nash has 26 goals in 45 games, including six goals and three
assists in the last six games. The Blue Jackets, out of the playoff
picture, are 21-18-3 since Nash returned from a knee injury in
mid-December and are 4-2-1 against the Blues with one meeting left.

Leclaire, a 2001 first-round pick who's been alternating with
Marc Denis, made 28 saves. He had several nice stops, thwarting Lee
Stempniak on a point-blank rebound with a glove save in the first
period, and stretching his left pad to stymie Timofei Shishkanov
alone in front midway through the third.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Leclaire
said. "We won a lot of battles in front of the net and on the
boards and I think that's why we won."

The Blue Jackets spotted the Blues a 1-0 lead on Tkachuk's 14th
goal on a rebound, the second shot of the game, before taking
control. Balastik's 11th tied it midway through the first, and
Chimera's 16th on a rebound gave them the lead at 4:29 of the
second.

"We knew that this goalie kicks out rebounds, so we wanted to
shoot from all angles and drive to the net, and it worked on the
first goal," Tkachuk said. "You can't let a team skate like
that."

Nash made it a two-goal gap when he beat Patrick Lalime with a
high wrist shot from the slot at 16:30 of the second. He got his
second goal of the game on a power play early in the third period,
swooping in on Lalime and beating him to the far side when the
goalie hugged the post.

Nash was stopped in an attempt for a hat trick into an empty net
in the final seconds when Christian Backman blocked his shot.

"You don't like to score an empty-netter for the third, but
you'll definitely take it," Nash said. "It'll come sooner or
later."

Mayers got his 11th goal at 10:39 and first since Dec. 31,
knocking down the puck in front and then swatting in a backhander.
Mayers missed 13 games with a broken foot from early February to
mid-March.

Game notes
Stempniak has one assist in his last 11 games. ... Lalime
has a 4-17 record; he dropped to 4-2 for his career against
Columbus. ... Balastik's goal was his first point in 10 games. ...
The Blues are 0-29-5 when trailing after two periods. ... The Blue
Jackets are 14-28-2 when their opponent scores first.