Originally created 04/02/04

Columbus teenager tied for NHL goals lead



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even if 19-year-old Rick Nash fails to win the NHL goal-scoring title, his offseason in Brampton, Ontario, will be just fine.

"I'm not going to be having a bad summer," the Blue Jackets' star said Thursday. "I've got 40 goals. I think that's a pretty good season."

With two games left, Nash and Calgary's Jarome Iginla share the lead with 40 goals, with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk right behind at 39.

Nash is the first teenager to score 40 goals in a season since Los Angeles' Jimmy Carson had 44 in 1987-88. Only eight players in NHL history have scored more goals before their 20th birthday than Nash's 57.

To win the goal-scoring crown, he must finish strong against two of the best teams. The Blue Jackets host Colorado on Friday night before closing the regular season at Detroit on Saturday night.

Nash didn't score in a 3-2 loss to Detroit on Wednesday night despite several good chances, including a second-period breakaway stopped by goaltender Manny Legace. Nash was just wide on a rebound in the closing minutes.

Nash, who also has 15 assists, had a season-high 22 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time. That shows how much he and the Blue Jackets want him to win the title.

"I hope he can play another 44 minutes in the final two games, Blue Jackets interim coach Gerard Gallant said. "There's no reason why he can't. Everybody wants him to win it."

The Blue Jackets have struggled this season - next to last in the Central Division entering Thursday night - and are intent on seeing that Nash finishes well.

"It would be great, not only having a teenager do it but it would be great for the organization," Tyler Wright said. "It would be a great way to cap off his year because he's had such a tremendous year."

Iginla (40 goals, 32 assists) and Calgary have games remaining at Los Angeles on Friday and at Anaheim on Sunday. Iginla won the goals title two years ago with 52.

Kovalchuk (39 goals, 46 assists) and the Thrashers host Pittsburgh on Friday night and close at Tampa Bay on Saturday night. Kovalchuk will turn 21 on April 15.

Nash has blossomed in his second season by putting his big body (6-foot-4, 206 pounds) in the crease and then relying on quick hands to jab in rebounds or redirect shots. A year ago he was outmuscled by defensemen.

"If I score, I score; if I don't, I don't," he said. "I'm 19 years old. It's a scoring title. It'd be nice to win. I didn't expect to be around here, so I'm not really expecting to win it."

Nash had 17 goals a year ago before bulking up. Now he has become a physical presence.

"I've been around a long time," Toronto's Gary Roberts said earlier this season. "I've seen some good players. He's going to be a good one. He is a good one."

Vancouver goaltender Johan Hedberg said Nash is an ever-present threat.

"He's big and strong, and every time I looked around, there was No. 61 around me," Hedberg said.

Nash shrugs when asked how much he wants the goals title.

"It's a no-brainer to go for it," he said. "It'd be a nice feather in my cap. It's just something that's there."