Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Nash ready to make his mark in playoffs
By Katie Strang
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Since being acquired by the Rangers in a blockbuster trade with Columbus last summer, Rick Nash has performed as advertised.
A dynamic forward who possesses that rare combination of size, speed and skill. One who can change the nature of a team’s lineup or change the complexion of an entire game. A player who creates a nightmare matchup for an opposing team.
But even though Nash has an impressive list of individual accomplishments -- an Olympic gold medal, numerous All-Star nods and an incredible run of nine straight 20-goal seasons -- Nash is missing one critical element that could define his legacy as a top player in the league: playoff success.
Rick Nash has yet to win a single NHL playoff game.
The former first overall pick in 2002, who spent the previous nine seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, has made only one appearance in the playoffs. He has yet to win a single game.
His only taste of postseason action to date? A first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, in which his Blue Jackets were swept and easily dispatched.
With four years since his last chance at making a postseason impact, consider Nash ready to rise to the challenge.
"We’ll find out," Nash said of embracing the pressure of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. "It’s something all the great athletes have done. It’s time to step up now."
His postseason experience has been so limited that it took Nash a long time to answer when asked what he could draw from that disappointing initiation in 2009.
"Um, I don’t know," Nash said before a long pause. "It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go. It was a quick series, but getting a little taste of the energy, the excitement and what to expect, it’s nice to have that stuff under my belt."
Nash isn’t a stranger to the big stage, though. A member of the gold-medal-winning Canadian team in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Nash has donned the Maple Leaf on his sweater enough in international competition to understand the type of pressure that comes with it.
"Any time you suit up for Hockey Canada, it’s on a huge stage, which is the same kind of feeling here," he said. "There’s a lot of pressure here to win; it’s a good feeling. It’s fun. This is when hockey counts, and it’s the same thing as when you play at the Olympics and stuff like that."
If Nash’s transition from a small-market locale like Columbus to the bright lights of Broadway is any indication, he is well-equipped to handle the scrutiny that comes with his star billing.
The 28-year-old led the team with 21 goals and finished second in scoring with 42 points in his debut season for the Rangers, and coach John Tortorella has never wasted an opportunity to extol his talents.
"He’s a game-breaker," Tortorella said. "It’s not just one particular thing. The way he handles himself in the room, handles himself off the ice, all the situations he’s been put in and has succeeded in. It’s a deal you do 10 times over, because you just don’t get that type of player that often."
Derek Dorsett, acquired in another Rangers trade with the Blue Jackets at the deadline this April, has played with Nash since 2008. Given what he’s seen him do on a nightly basis, Dorsett is confident he’ll be an important contributor come playoff time.
"Any time you play with a player like that, you sit back and kind of just watch and try to just learn," said Dorsett, who’s recovering from a fractured collarbone. "He’s a humble guy, [he] just goes about his business, but [after] playing with him for four or five years, it’s [still] amazing how big he is, how well he can move off the walls and how quick and explosive and powerful he can be."
Nash seems to grasp that this is an important series, not just for the team but himself as a player.
"Excitement’s a better word for it," he said. "Just looking forward to getting started and being a part of this."