Rick Nash gathered the puck with a head of steam early in the third period Tuesday night in Nationwide Arena.

Like a jumbo jet circling the airport on its final approach, the Blue Jackets captain made a sweeping turn in the neutral zone, squared his shoulders and barreled down the right wing in a scoreless game.

Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein thought he could angle the 6-foot-4 power forward to the wall, but Nash got a step on him. With Predators players collapsing to the net, Nash cut left and put the puck into the crease, where it caromed off the skate blade of Shea Weber.

With the building at full throat, Nash had scored the first of his two third-period goals on the way to a pivotal 4-0 win.

As has been the case for more than a month, Nash was dominating with the game on his stick. Part of it is the natural evolution of a 26-year-old star entering his prime. Another part is a plan developed by the coaching staff in the offseason to keep the team's best player fresh for late in games and late in the season.

Nash is averaging 18:37 of ice time - a significant 2:20 drop from a season ago and his lowest total since the 2005-06 season. Among the NHL's top 15 scorers, Nash is playing the fewest minutes.

"Most star players want to be on the ice all the time," coach Scott Arniel said. "They want more opportunities to be the difference. But he's been really good about it, and when he's out there he's giving us his all."

Nash has been a goal-scoring, back-checking, hard-skating dynamo during a 10-3-3 run that has thrust the Jackets into the playoff race. He's not just compiling points - Nash has nine goals and 11 assists in that span - but he's also playing with an intensity of purpose and elevated level of leadership.

In recent weeks, coaches such as Los Angeles' Terry Murray and Nashville's Barry Trotz have remarked on the transformation.

"He was a guy who was a bit of a one-trick pony, a guy who was really dangerous off the rush and could do some things one-on-one," Trotz said. "Now, he's using people much better, his game is evolving and he's using his power game more."

Nash might have more power because he's playing fewer minutes. He rarely kills penalties, unlike seasons under former coach Ken Hitchcock, and he's making an effort to keep shifts shorter.