Nash looking forward to not playing for Canada

TERRY KOSHAN

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Rick Nash loves representing his country and all, but enough is enough.

The Columbus Blue Jackets captain has been to the world championship on three occasions in Canada's colours, a sure sign he has not participated in the National Hockey League playoffs.

"I think this is the year we have to make it," Nash said during a telephone interview. "Our fans have been some of the most loyal fans, but you can tell they are getting impatient. It would be nice to stay back (from the world championship) for a change and be in the playoffs."

The Blue Jackets' next playoff game will be their first one, having never earned a post-season berth in their seven years. If they're going to get to the annual spring dance, it will only be after they've survived a dogfight in the Western Conference.

Rookie goalie Steve Mason, a favourite to win the Calder Trophy, and Nash get most of the attention in Ohio. Though many, including Nash, think it wouldn't hurt to add some scoring punch to make a final playoff push, coach Ken Hitchcock likes his group.

"My feeling is we have a good team with good chemistry," Hitchcock said from Columbus. "Mason has really helped, and combined with Nash's leadership, there has been a big difference. We added guys like (Kristian) Huselius, (Mike) Commodore, (Fedor) Tyutin, and (R.J.) Umberger, guys who know how to win. I really think we have an ability to confront issues."

Hitchcock is reminded of the Stars team he coached more than a decade ago.

"When I was in Philadelphia, we had a lot of good players and Keith Primeau really took over," Hitchcock said. "This is more like the Dallas situation. You could really feel it turning during the 1996-97 season, and a lot of guys took that next step. That's the feeling we have here."

Hitchcock has no interest in wheezing into the playoffs and getting destroyed by a bloodthirsty group of San Jose Sharks or Detroit Red Wings .

"We don't want to be a team that's one and out," he said. "We're trying to build something here.

"All we hear (outside of Columbus) is that we're an afterthought, and that's fine. The pressure (in Columbus), I would rather have it to see how we can handle it."

FLYERS FUMING

The coach of the most penalized team in the league doesn't think history is on his side, especially since he's running an outfit that earned its stripes as the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s.

"I really do believe there is an aura about the Flyers," Philadelphia coach John Stevens said. "A tradition and an identity that has been there and will always be there. Look at the Super Bowl. When you talk about the (Pittsburgh) Steelers, coaches have changed but the identity of a Pittsburgh linebacker has never changed. There are certainly some things historically that stay with teams.

"The disparity is what is right now. It deserves some attention from us."

The Flyers were averaging 18.4 penalty minutes a game and had eight players in the top 100 in minor penalties, more than any other team.

"Since I've been in the league it's been that way," captain Mike Richards said. "I can't remember when we've had more power plays than penalty kills."

OLLIE THE RETIREE?

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Olaf Kolzig might have played his last NHL game.

Kolzig is scheduled to have surgery today on biceps tendon in his left arm and is looking at a recovery period of three to four months. Though the 38-year-old Kolzig -- who started his NHL career with Washington in the 1992-93 season and was a Capital until he signed last July with Tampa -- did not slam the door on coming back next season, he's not overly optimistic.

"For me, in my mind, there is a lot of doubt for my future right now, as far as hockey goes," said Kolzig, who holds the Capitals record for most seasons played in a Washington uniform with 16.

ICE CHIPS

Colorado Avalanche rookie forward Chris Stewart is a model of perseverance. The Toronto native cracked the Kingston Frontenacs lineup in 2004 as a walk-on, joining his older brother Anthony, and didn't have big expectations regarding a pro career. Now, 41/2 years later, Stewart has become a better prospect than his brother, who has struggled to earn a full-time role with the Florida Panthers ... Shouldn't the Red Wings be a little concerned that in the same week they sign Henrik Zetterberg to a 12-year contract extension, he misses a game with back spasms? ... He might not have the trade sizzle of Keith Tkachuk, but one player who could be on the move before the March 4 trade deadline is Colby Armstrong of the Thrashers. And it would not be a big shock if he were headed back to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Armstrong is one of Sidney Crosby's closest friends in the NHL.


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