(SportsNetwork.com) - Rick Nash has faced his former Columbus Blue Jackets club twice since his trade to the New York Rangers during the summer of 2012, but none of those have previously come in the state of Ohio.
That will change on Friday night when Nash finally makes his return to Nationwide Arena as the Rangers and Blue Jackets battle for two key points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Blue Jackets made Nash the first overall pick of the 2002 draft and it didn't take him long to become the face of the franchise. Following a 39-point rookie season, Nash exploded for 41 goals and 57 points in 80 games of the 2003-04 campaign and would go on to net at least 30 goals in seven of his nine seasons with Columbus.
However, the Blue Jackets only made the postseason once during Nash's tenure, getting swept out of the first round in 2009, and Columbus' rebuild mode finally forced Nash out of town. He was traded to the Rangers on July 23, 2012 in a deal that brought Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round selection to Columbus.
The Rangers did not face the Blue Jackets during last season's lockout- shortened schedule and Nash missed New York's first trip to Columbus this season on Nov. 7 -- a 4-2 win -- due to a concussion. The Blueshirts have since hosted the Blue Jackets twice and were defeated both times, with Nash notching a pair of goals in two games.
The 29-year-old will finally get a chance to say hello to the Columbus faithful tonight.
"I'll have a lot of family and friends here, so I know they'll be cheering. As for all the other fans, I'm not sure what to expect," said Nash. "Ever since I've been traded and come to the Rangers, me and the Blue Jackets fans have been through so much together. If I get cheers, great. If I get boos, which I'm sure there will be some, I'll move on from that."
In a twist of fate, the Blue Jackets and Rangers are both battling for a playoff spot and enter this contest with 78 points each. That is good enough to be tied for third place in the Metropolitan Division, though Columbus holds the current tiebreaker with a game in hand.
While the Blue Jackets currently own the third of three automatic playoff bids handed out in each division, the Rangers are occupying the second wild card berth in the East. However, they are only one point ahead of both the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals.
Though he is now on the other bench, Nash is glad to see his former franchise playing well.
"We went through a lot. Four playoff games in 10 years. It was a tough go, so to see them doing well, I'm happy for the fans. And I'm happy for ownership. They have great ownership. They have a family that really loves the city," noted Nash.
Nash is looking to get the Rangers into the postseason for a fourth straight year and leads the club with 22 goals through 53 games. He picked up two of those tallies in Tuesday's 8-4 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Derick Brassard notched one of his two goals in the game during a four-goal second period, while Benoit Pouliot, John Moore and Ryan McDonagh also scored in the frame.
New York used its highest single-game scoring output this season to win for only the fourth time in 10 games this month.
"That certainly was not a defensive masterpiece, but we'll take the two points," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
Though it wasn't one of his highlight performances, Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves to record the 302nd win of his career. That moved him past Mike Richter for the most in Rangers franchise history.
While McDonagh has four goals and seven points over his last nine games, Martin St. Louis remained without a goal in eight games with the Rangers. He does have three assists since coming over in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blue Jackets have gone 7-2-1 this month and notched a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens last night. Ryan Johansen had the deciding goal with 3:01 to play.
"I was a little frustrated by one of the penalties I took earlier," said Johansen. "But at the end I was glad to be able to jump on their defender's mistake and score the winning goal."
Derek MacKenzie had a short-handed tally earlier for Columbus, while Dubinsky scored and Sergei Bobrovsky came up with 25 saves.
Dubinsky has a goal and three points in three games versus his former club this season, while Bobrovsky has gone 2-4-1 with a 2.87 goals against average in his career against the Rangers.
Lundqvist has struggled to a 0-1-1 record and 4.76 GAA in two meetings with Columbus this season and has gone 3-3-1 with a 3.06 GAA versus the club lifetime.
03/21 10:55:07 ET