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Nash has goal, assist in Columbus' win over Atlanta
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ATLANTA — Steve Mason always wondered how it would feel to earn his first NHL shutout.

After Columbus' rookie goalie did it with a 15-save effort, the whole experience felt a bit strange.

"Overall, it was a pretty simple game, and the only hard part was staying focused," Mason said. "You try not to think about it, but obviously during the third period, it's on your mind when there are no goals up on the board."

Rick Nash extended his goal streak to five games, knocking in a backhander in the first period that helped the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 2-0 victory over the sluggish Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night.

Nash scored his 10th goal of the season and was credited with his ninth assist when R.J. Umberger added his eighth goal, an empty-netter, with 1:18 remaining. Nash, who has 12 points in nine games, praised Mason even though the rookie was rarely challenged.

"It was nice to keep the shot count down," Nash said. "It was great, especially against a team like that with (Ilya) Kovalchuk and (Slava) Kozlov. He shut them down."

The Blue Jackets, coming off a 7-2 home loss to Edmonton on Tuesday, won for the first time in three games but are 5-2-1 in their last eight.

Atlanta has lost three straight after a five-game winning streak.

Outshot by a combined 72-29 in the first and second periods of the last three games, the Thrashers created few problems for Mason, who made six saves in the third.

"It's tough holding a one-goal lead for the majority of the game," Mason said. "The defensemen did a great job of blocking shots and making sure I could see the puck. They made it easy for me."

Columbus' Raffi Torres, who missed the first 11 games due to knee and shoulder injuries, had his first goal of the season voided when replay showed he kicked disallowed his tally 5:06 into the second period.

Mason improved to 4-1-1 as Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock rested Pascal Leclaire after the seven-goal game against Edmonton.

He faced just one shot from Ilya Kovalchuk, who has scored six goals on 51 shots. Kovalchuk is the only NHL player with at least 40 goals in each of the last four seasons.

Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves but fell to 2-2.

Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby bruised his forehead during a second-period fight with Columbus forward Jared Boll.

"We can't come out flat and try to make up in the third," Exelby said. "We need to come out hungry to play in the first and not get too far behind. We were riding high after winning five straight. This brings us back to harsh reality."

Atlanta found no answers against Columbus' defense, bottoming out during a power play that extended into the first 1:02 of the third, a span in which the Blue Jackets outshot the Thrashers 3-0.

"We are going to be in big trouble by Christmas, for the playoff picture, if we keep this up," Exelby said. "Each and every one of us has to keep each one other accountable. It's not just a turnover or a missed play. You're letting your teammate down. We need to realize that we are playing for each other."

<B>Notes:<P> Thrashers C Todd White played 22 shifts. He was helped off the ice Thursday and didn't return after getting checked headfirst into the boards during a 3-2 home loss to Pittsburgh. ... Columbus improved to 9-2 when scoring first. The Blue Jackets are 0-6-3 when opponents score first. ... The fewest shots allowed by the Blue Jackets is 14, set in a loss to Colorado on Jan. 10, 2001, and matched last Jan. 19 in a 3-1 loss at Dallas. ... It marked the fewest shots recorded by Atlanta since March 14, when the Thrashers had 12 in a 4-1 loss at Washington.

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