COLUMBUS, Ohio - Rick Nash has been through all the bad times with the Columbus Blue Jackets. No one is enjoying the good times more.
Nash's third goal of the game came on a rebound 3:27 into overtime to give the Blue Jackets a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night. The win kept the surprising Blue Jackets in the thick of the race for their first playoff berth.
"All the moments have felt real," Nash said after bumping up his scoring total to 22 goals. "We've been on 10-game losing streaks. They've felt pretty real too. This is a lot better."
Nash's goals came short-handed, on the power play and, finally, at even strength.
"He, more than anyone, recognizes the opportunity in front of us and he sent the other players a clear message," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He wants to finish the job and make a run for this thing. ... Rick's able to start at a high pace and others are able to tag along. And that's what leaders are able to do."
The Red Wings were without stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, who were forced by the NHL to sit out their first game back after the break for not fulfilling their obligations at the all-star game. Henrik Zetterberg didn't play after the second period because of back spasms.
In the overtime, Nash carried the puck into the zone before passing to Fedor Tyutin who tossed a centring pass through the crease to fellow defenceman Mike Commodore. But Commodore could only kick at the puck with his skate and but it bounced to the right of the goal where Nash was waiting to jam it in.
"It's special. Everything kind of came together against one of the best teams in the league," Nash said. "To win it in overtime, sudden death, it was definitely one of the more special goals I've scored."
It was the former NHL goal-scoring leader's third career hat trick.
"Well, he's awesome," Commodore said of Nash. "He's a special player. To be his size and with his hands, to be able to protect the puck and turn and make plays - I wish I had a quarter of his talent."
Marian Hossa and Brett Lebda had Detroit's goals.
Commodore finished with two assists for the Blue Jackets, who were returning home after playing nine of 12 on the road. Now they play 15 of their next 24 at home where they are 14-7-1, including winning four of the last five and nine of 11.
Down 1-0 and 2-1, the Blue Jackets pulled even twice in the second period.
The Red Wings were on the power play when Nash got a stick on Derek Meech's pass for Brian Rafalski near the blue-line. Nash beat them to the puck and skated in on goaltender Chris Osgood, beating him through the leg pads for the short-handed goal.
"He's a good hockey player. It's kind of like (Datsyuk and Zetterberg), your best player has got to be your best player. That's why you pay them all the money. If they're not your best players, you don't win," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
"I don't think anybody's surprised. Everyone knows Nash is a real good player."
However, just 29 seconds later, the Wings counter punched. The Blue Jackets failed to clear the puck and Lebda made them pay when his hard slap shot from the point got past Columbus goaltender Steve Mason, who finished with 21 saves.
Hossa was then called for a hooking penalty Nash. The Blue Jackets, last in the league on the power play, wasted little time with Nash taking a pass from Kristian Huselius and, from a hard angle, firing a shot that deflected off Rafalski's stick and popped behind Osgood and into the net to tie it at two.
On the power play, Zetterberg passed to Niklas Kronwall for a one-timer from the point in the opening period. The shot was right of the goal but took a big bounce off the back boards - directly to Hossa who was at the right doorstep. He jammed it in for his 23rd of the year.
Mason has had a huge year in goal for the Blue Jackets, helping to transform a bad team into a contender. But he said it's been a treat just to be around Nash, the club's captain.
"He's a world-class player," Mason said. "It's pretty fun watching him every single night, seeing some of the things he does. Tonight was just like any other night for him."
Notes: Zetterberg played in his 400th career game. ... The Blue Jackets have had 14 hat tricks in franchise history. ... Columbus' Manny Malhotra, who had a career-best seven-game points streak end, played in his 600th career game.