Cross Checks: Rick Nash

Nash, Voracek back in Columbus

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
5:35
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Funny the lines that intersect at an event such as the NHL All-Star weekend.

Like the return of former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash and the emergence of young Jakub Voracek -- another former Blue Jacket -- as the league’s leading scorer.

"I could see from the time he was a young player, he had all the talent in the world," Nash said of Voracek. "It was a matter of maturing, and gaining confidence. He's got all the tools to be the best player in the world."

The two see a lot of each other now as Nash remains the New York Rangers' top offensive player, while Voracek is lighting it up for the Philadelphia Flyers on a line with captain Claude Giroux, another player in Columbus this weekend.

[+] EnlargeRick Nash
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesRangers forward Rick Nash said the city of Columbus is a special place for him and his family.
Is it possible the two former Blue Jackets could play together in Sunday’s All-Star Game?

Nash said he’s looking forward to it.

As for his return to Columbus, it’s not the first time, but it is the first time where Nash is being recognized for an outstanding season that has seen him score 28 times, tied for the NHL lead.

"I'm over the boos. It doesn't affect me," Nash said. "I felt like I put a lot of work into this, to this city, to this organization. I played half my career into Columbus, and to build hockey the best I can in the area. Seems to be taking off pretty good."

Nash did admit that his first return to his original NHL home was a bit strange.

"You didn't really know what to expect," he said. "There were some cheers, and then boos. I think I expected some boos because that's what any sports fan would do when the enemy comes into town. It was just awkward. It was just a strange feeling. And it's still a strange feeling coming into this building."

"I always miss Columbus. I always miss the city. It holds a special place to me and my family. It always will."

As for Voracek, who went to Philadelphia in a deal that saw sniper Jeff Carter come to Columbus before later going to Los Angeles, the former 7th overall pick in the 2007 draft also has fond memories of his time in the All-Star city.

He joked that he might be a tour guide for some of his fellow All-Stars.

"Yeah, yeah. I know this city pretty well. I know some of the restaurants to go to. And I guess there are a couple bars that people like," he said with a laugh.

"I grew up here a little bit. I was 19 years old, and this is where I lived. They made me feel comfortable and welcomed, and you remember that. It's special for me to be here, of course. It's the All-Star Game. But being [in] Columbus ... that's good, too."


NEW YORK -- While the Los Angeles Kings hammer out the details of their continuing celebration, plot out a parade route and figure out how many cases of champagne to order as they toast their second Stanley Cup championship in three years, the New York Rangers face much tougher decisions.

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Rangers fans, who would you keep?

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In the aftermath of their season-ending loss Friday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers will be forced to act quickly on a number of pressing issues confronting the club in the weeks ahead.

Who will stay? Who will go?

The most immediate of those questions is what general manager Glen Sather and the rest of the Rangers brass wish to do in regard to their veteran center and de facto captain Brad Richards.

The team has one existing compliance buyout to exercise, with many assuming it is a foregone conclusion that the team will use it on the 34-year-old Richards. This has less to do with Richards' subpar performance during the team’s finals series against the Kings, though the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner was dropped to the fourth line in the final two games due to his poor play.

The most prohibitive strike against Richards is the significant financial penalty the team will incur should he retire before the expiration of his nine-year, $60 million deal that runs through 2020. Those penalties are spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement, via the controversial cap recapture rule.

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Richards wants to remain a Ranger, and his emergence as the heart-and-soul leader of the team during a surprising and successful run this spring might have temporarily helped his case, but a dispassionate, logical look at the matter will likely result in the team parting ways with him soon. The Rangers have a small window in which to make this decision: from 48 hours following the Stanley Cup final to June 30, so as to allow the player time to seek new suitors come free agency July 1.

Should Sather cut ties with Richards, it will not be an indictment of his play during a disastrous 2013 lockout-shortened season or a difficult five-game set against the Kings. It will be a business decision, nothing more, nothing less. And know this: Richards stands to gain financially should he hit the open market, as he will certainly garner interest from a number of teams looking to add depth and experience down the middle.

Next on the agenda will be the question of what to do with Rick Nash. The marquee winger, acquired in a blockbuster deal in 2012, was largely ineffective during the playoffs, especially when the team needed timely production most. Friday’s game was the sixth straight in which he was held off the score sheet.

Earlier in the postseason, Nash went through a 14-game goal drought. It is not for lack of effort -- the 29-year-old winger was engaged and assertive in trying to make a difference during the series against the Kings -- but the lack of scoring is jarring nonetheless, especially considering his $7.8 million annual salary. In two years with the Rangers, the two-time 40-goal scorer and two-time Olympic Gold medalist has scored only four goals in 37 playoff games.

The Rangers could always choose to buy him out instead, though that seems unlikely given Richards’ position as the prime candidate. Also, Nash has a full no-move clause, so he has complete control over his fate. Still, it is worth wondering whether he might see a trade from New York as a reprieve from the unrelenting scrutiny he has endured this spring -- sometimes deserved, sometimes not.

And considering the trade market developing in the weeks before the draft, which will be held the final weekend in June in Philadelphia, teams will be active in working the phones. With elite centers such as Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza and Ryan Kesler on the trading block, the Rangers might want to listen to any offers that would ship Nash elsewhere.

Sather also must decide whether to re-sign or let go some key players.

Among the most interesting of these is second-pair defenseman Anton Stralman, who was arguably the team’s best player on the back end this spring. Stralman, who has transformed from a training camp castoff (New Jersey sent him home back in 2011 without a contract) to one of the team’s most reliable defensemen, earned himself a nice pay raise with his stout play this spring.

Stralman is one of several impending unrestricted free agents who positioned themselves well. Rugged winger Brian Boyle, a critical member of the team’s productive fourth line and a dogged penalty-killer, will be coveted by a team seeking size and toughness. Benoit Pouliot, all those boneheaded offensive zone penalties aside, had a standout year.

The Rangers need to make it a priority to extend defenseman Marc Staal at the earliest opportunity - July 1 - for he is a cornerstone Blueshirts player and as solid of a leader as they come.

And then there’s the crop of restricted free agents, including Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and John Moore.

There are lots of decisions ahead of Sather, and none of them is easy. Who will stay? Who will go?
LOS ANGELES -- This is what heartbreak looks like: a stunned Derek Stepan with his stare fixed on the ground, arms folded on his knees, shoulders sagging in the moments after defeat. Henrik Lundqvist clasping his tape-laced fingers behind his neck, bowing his head in a locker room that was staggeringly silent. Dan Girardi, unmoving in his stall, sitting stoically in his sweat-soaked jersey.

"I have nowhere to go. No hurry now," Girardi said. "Just kept it on. No reason. I just -- just hanging onto it, I guess. Hanging onto the last moments here."

There were so many poignant moments to remember for the New York Rangers throughout what was a remarkable postseason run. So much to be proud of, yet all those fond memories were difficult to summon in the wake of the team’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals on Friday night.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Rangers' playoff run ended with a Game 5, double-overtime loss to the Kings.
Those moments will be recalled in a few days' time. They’ll probably be rehashed many times throughout what will feel like a long, endless summer. Down the road, years from now, those memories will be shared over beers, laughs, maybe even some tears, too. There will be a sense of pride.

But not now.

"There will be. Not tonight, but there will be," said veteran Brad Richards, the Rangers’ de facto captain. "Tonight’s not a night to reminisce, but there will be a time this summer when you look back at what an amazing run it was. Has to be amazing to get this far. Things have to come together. No one will ever know, except for us, how fun it was and how we came together. You lose three overtime games in the final. It’s hard to explain."

It was already tough for the Rangers to articulate, to put into words just how exactly they were feeling physically, mentally and emotionally after a beautifully chaotic and drama-filled double-overtime game that ended with Alec Martinez’s game winner.

Some tried to explain what it was like.

"Empty," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who had a particularly strong postseason. "Emptiness, I think."

Marc Staal, as steady as any player in that room, both on or off the ice, made no effort to conceal his anguish.

"It’s the worst feeling you can have as a hockey player," said Staal, which is not hollow hyperbole coming from a player who has suffered through a pair of frightening, career-threatening injuries in recent years.

Maybe the worst part for all of those involved is that the group will never again get a chance with the team constituted as it currently stands. Richards has likely played his last game as a Ranger, with a potential buyout looming. Rick Nash, with another disappointing postseason performance, might not be long for Broadway. The team has six impending unrestricted free agents and several key restricted free agents to get under contract as well.

It will not be the same group of players come training camp this fall.

"Who knows if we’re going to have another crack at this? We might not get another crack at this opportunity," Girardi said, almost unbelieving. "That’s why it hurts, I think, that much more."

It will also sting, for some time, for the Rangers to look back on a series that went five games but was riddled with squandered leads, missed opportunities and some odd outcomes.

The Rangers played better in the games they lost than in their sole victory in Game 4. The Kings erased leads, rallied back, showed resilience. The Rangers never even really felt like they settled into their game. They dropped the first three games and seemed shell-shocked by their position.

"It felt like we closed our eyes and opened them and we were down three-nothing [in the series]," Staal said.

But the Rangers salvaged pride in Game 4, avoiding a sweep on home ice at Madison Square Garden, and they should have left the handshake line with their heads held high as well.

They left every ounce of effort on that Staples Center ice Friday night in what was maybe the most riveting stretch of playoff hockey this spring, maybe ever. There was not a single moment to mentally adjust, no time to take a deep breath. Just end-to-end, do-or-die hockey in its purest form. It was wildly entertaining, captivating and absolutely mesmerizing.

Both teams had their chances, great chances, to end the game in each overtime period. There was Ryan McDonagh’s shot off the post and Tyler Toffoli’s crossbar shot in the first period. There was Nash’s shot directed at an open net, foiled only by a sliver of shaft of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s stick in the next. Lundqvist was superb the whole way through, denying every Grade-A chance that passed his crease for his second outing of 40 saves or more, but it was just one juicy rebound surrendered that ended up in the back of their net.

Martinez buried the chance, a play that seemed to unfold in slow motion, if only because it signaled the end to a game that many hoped would just keep going. It was that good.

Coach Alain Vigneault, talking to just a smattering of reporters with the muffled sounds of victory music lingering in the background, lauded his club for its heart.

"You go into this hoping you don’t regret anything," Vigneault said. "We put it out there. We gave our best shot, our best effort. Three games here all went to OT. What can I say?"

There was not much to say, after all. But there will be time to think and reflect.

Defenseman John Moore, finally showered and dressed in his suit, paused on his way out of the dressing room. There was a television monitor in the barren hallway, and he took a brief glance at the Kings celebrating their Stanley Cup win with friends and family on the ice.

He looked away and kept walking.

It’s too painful in the immediate aftermath, but they will remember this run -- the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years.

It was special, even in defeat.

"It’s definitely worth it. Worth every second, these two months," Richards said. "Right now, you’re just sort of speechless."


MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers' well-balanced, four-line offensive attack has been a strength of the team this postseason. It became absolutely critical when some of the club’s top players were slumping.

That sort of depth continues to shine as the Rangers keep rolling through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 2-0 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens, but there is reason to believe that the team’s star forwards are beginning to emerge.

The recent play of Rick Nash has been particularly encouraging, especially given the big man’s pronounced struggles earlier this spring.

Nash was acquired by the Rangers in a blockbuster trade two summers ago, seen as the type of centerpiece player that could put New York into the group of elite Stanley Cup contenders. In his first four playoff series as a Blueshirt, he failed to live up to the billing, with only one goal in 26 games. The low point occurred during the second round, when he was booed by the Madison Square Garden fans as a convenient scapegoat.

As veteran center Brad Richards said, “The good thing about a slump is that it’s going to end,” and most close observers of the team assumed Nash's time was coming soon. After all, he entered this series with a league-leading 52 shots.

[+] EnlargeRick Nash
Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY SportsRick Nash finally got off the schneid in Saturday's opener.
Fortunately for the Rangers, the 29-year-old Nash embraced the team’s trip to the Eastern Conference finals as a clean slate and has reversed his misfortune. Nash was credited with the game winner in Monday’s 3-1 victory over the Habs in Game 2, his second goal in as many games.

“As a player that’s gone through slumps, it’s hard to get out of it and it’s hard to almost find a way to score a goal,” Nash’s linemate Derek Stepan said Tuesday morning at the team hotel. “For him to find a way to score a goal in Game 1 and then score a goal in Game 2, it’s good for us and we’re going to need him to continue to score goals.”

There was no hesitation when Nash pulled the trigger and fired the puck off a cross-ice feed from linemate Chris Kreider. He looked confident, poised and dangerous.

Just two days earlier, Nash had snapped his debilitating slump, one that stretched 14 games through two seven-game series this spring, with a garbage-time power-play goal. With the Rangers already pummeling the Habs, it wasn’t a critical goal for the team, but in retrospect it was probably a monumental one for Nash, if only in terms of the mental relief it provided.

“Hockey’s our life, hockey’s our job. This is what we do 24/7, so when something’s not going right, you feel it in the dressing room, during the games, at home, no matter what,” Nash said.

Head coach Alain Vigneault tried to alleviate some of the pressure Nash was feeling. But there was only so much he could say until Nash finally broke through and found the back of the net.

That, Vigneault hopes, will be enough to keep him producing for the Rangers at a consistent clip.

“You tell them all the lines, ‘I have faith in ya, you’re working really hard,’ and da-dee-da-da-da, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to work themselves through it and they’ve got to believe in themselves,” Vigneault said. “That’s what Rick did and that’s what most of our guys tried to do.”

It’s not just Nash that has come on, either. Martin St. Louis has scored twice this series, while defenseman Ryan McDonagh has recorded six points in the past six periods.

Balance is key for any team, but having your top players all producing at the right time seems to be a harbinger of good things to come.

“I think it’s safe to say everybody expected Rick to score,” Vigneault said. “We brought him in for his offensive production. He was going through what players go through now and then, a tough spell. He stuck with it, his teammates stuck with it by working extremely hard. It was just a matter of time, in our estimation, for him to come out of it and now it looks good for us.”

Rick Nash snaps scoring slump

May, 17, 2014
5/17/14
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MONTREAL -- If there was any game in which to snap a goal-scoring skid, this was the one to do it.

With the New York Rangers absolutely manhandling the Montreal Canadiens in a surprising 7-2 smackdown during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, slumping winger Rick Nash took advantage.

[+] EnlargeRick Nash
Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY SportsRick Nash scored his first goal of the playoffs.
After 14 straight playoff games this spring without scoring, Nash, who replaced the injured Derick Brassard on the power-play unit, finally found the back of the net with a power-play goal that gave the Rangers a whopping six-goal lead in the third period.

Nash admitted a sense of relief after the game, though he said he was pleased with the Rangers’ inspired win more than any personal accolades.

“Yeah, for sure, it was nice to get that one,” he said. “As I said all along, the more important thing is that we're doing the right things as a team to win games."

Nash’s goal was just one of an onslaught against the Habs that saddled the home team with a demoralizing loss in the series opener. The Rangers opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period and kept pushing all game long, chasing Canadiens goaltender Carey Price from the net after the second period and continuing the attack even after backup Peter Budaj entered the game to replace him.

Nash’s goal meant little in a game that was already over for Montreal, but it may prove critical in alleviating some of the pressure he has endured in the wake of a drought that seemed interminable for the two-time 40-goal scorer.

That lack of production made him the ire of Rangers fans' frustration early in the second-round series, when they turned on the $7.8 million man and booed him when he touched the puck in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden last week.

His teammate Brad Richards, who was incensed at that display from fans, said he was happy to see Nash break through Saturday. As Nash did, however, Richards said that the team’s performance was paramount, not any individual’s contributions.

“We're all happy to see Nasher score because he's taken a lot of heat. That's a little weight off his back, but really, it doesn't matter. We won the game,” Richards said. “When you're in the playoffs, when it's [7-2], no one's jumping up and down about who scored goals. We won as a team, we've got a good start and we're going to move on to Game 2.”

It doesn’t hurt that they have one of their top offensive threats back on the score sheet, however. Prior to Saturday’s man-up marker, Nash had tallied only one goal in 26 playoff games as a New York Ranger.

Speaking of top producers, Ryan McDonagh’s team-high four points was, according to Elias Sports Bureau, the most from a Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch did the same in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver on June 7, 1994.

Chris Kreider, who scored the game-winning goal Saturday, has recorded four points in the past four games since returning from a left hand injury that sidelined him for 19 straight games.

The 23-year-old winger also bowled over Price on a breakaway earlier in the game, a collision that seemed to leave Price shaken up. Kreider said that he was not trying to “run” Price, but that he lost his balance while trying to corral a bouncing puck.

“It wasn't really sitting for me, so I had my head down trying to settle the puck. I put it wide and somehow lost my footing. I thought maybe someone pressured me from behind,” he told reporters after the game. “I seem to have an issue staying on my feet on those, but then I went in skates first and I just had too much momentum and couldn't really avoid him. It didn't feel too good for me, either.”
MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers did not shrink away from the spotlight when it came to test their mettle in the NHL’s most daunting, raucous road venue Saturday afternoon. No, the Rangers finally put to bed the notion that the Bell Centre was their own personal house of horrors as they stifled a boisterous crowd and sent fans scrambling for the exits in a commanding 7-2 rout of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Despite having recorded just one win in their last 10 games in the arena, revered for its rabid crowd and ample acoustics, the Rangers dispatched the Habs with ease, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead and chasing goaltender Carey Price from net after the second period in their fourth consecutive playoff win.

That stunned silence that settled over the crowd must have felt like music to their ears.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesMartin St. Louis had an emotional homecoming.
“I wish we could play every game here,” said veteran center Brad Richards, whose goal with less than 12 seconds remaining in the second period served as the dagger for both Price and the Habs. “It’s a great building.”

The Rangers had a little bit of everything in their series-opening victory in Montreal, including yet another huge moment for second-round series hero Martin St. Louis.

St. Louis, who inspired his entire Rangers team when he returned to play in Game 5 last week just one day following the death of his mother, scored the game’s first goal just 4:35 into play, converting a beautiful feed from fourth-line center Dominic Moore.

It’s an emotional homecoming for St. Louis, considering the last time he was here was last Thursday, when he flew home from Pittsburgh to grieve with his family. The St. Louis family will host the entire Rangers team as they attend the funeral for France St. Louis, who died of a heart attack at age 63, on Sunday.

About 10 to 12 of the Rangers went to her wake Friday night in what continues to be an emotional week for St. Louis and his family. Coach Alain Vigneault even texted the 38-year-old veteran afterward, just to make sure he was doing OK.

“It’s been very emotional for our whole group, and he’s handled it in an incredible way that has probably helped our team come closer together,” Vigneault said.

St. Louis appeared elated after the goal, and after the game, he discussed how grateful he is to have the support he has received over the last nine days.

“The guys are behind me and supporting me, and their effort was unbelievable,” he said. “We feel really close right now and we're trying to keep feeding off that.”

St. Louis was named the game’s first star -- and a huge stick tap to the Bell Centre crowd here, for even a disgruntled Habs fan base cheered him heartily after their team lost -- but there were so many for the Rangers who chipped in for the type of resounding win that is sure to keep the team’s confidence chugging along.

Moore, who is no stranger to heartbreak himself after losing wife, Katie, to a rare form of liver cancer last year, was absolutely sensational in the opening frame. He made two jaw-dropping feeds to set up the Rangers’ first two goals, helping build a critical 2-0 lead that put the hapless Habs on their heels.

The Blueshirts were 3-for-7 on power plays in Game 1.

Rick Nash finally scored his first goal of the 2014 playoffs, defenseman Ryan McDonagh finished with one goal and three assists, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist continued his dominant play.

Lundqvist, who has posted a 1.25 GAA and .961 save percentage in the last four games, may even get a respite now from those persisting questions about his struggles at Bell Centre, where, before Saturday, he had not played in more than two years. He had not won a game in the building since 2009.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen him play the past few weeks," Brian Boyle said, “but he’s been on another planet.”

The entire Rangers team played pretty otherworldly Saturday, outskating the Habs from start to finish. It just may be that Montreal has not faced an opponent yet this postseason that boasts the same sort of threatening speed element as the Habs. On Saturday, they did not handle that well.

“We got our asses kicked all over the ice,” Habs forward Rene Bourque told reporters after the game, also calling it Montreal’s “worst playoff game by far.”

The Rangers were expecting to carry over the type of inspired, purposeful play that allowed them to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2, but it would have been hard to imagine such a drubbing, especially against one of the best goaltenders thus far this postseason.

Price, who did not speak after the game, was pulled after surrendering four goals on 20 shots. He was replaced by backup goaltender Peter Budaj, though Budaj couldn’t do too much to stop the onslaught, either.

"Yeah, I'd say surprised,” defenseman Marc Staal said about the Rangers’ seven goals against Montreal. “Not surprised in the way we played and the way we wanted to play.

"We had a great start to the game, set that tempo right from the beginning, and were able to convert on a couple, which is big in a road rink, especially here," Staal said. "We were able to carry that through."
MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers will be making their second Eastern Conference finals appearance in the past three seasons when they square off against the Montreal Canadiens to start Round 3 on Saturday afternoon. The Habs have home-ice advantage, however, and the Bell Centre -- one of hockey’s most raucous and intimidating venues -- has not been historically kind to the Blueshirts. The Rangers have won only one of the past 10 games in Montreal, but they hope to reverse their fortune in the postseason.

Respect factor: A few different Canadiens players felt they were "disrespected" by the favored Boston Bruins in the two clubs’ second-round series, but that won’t be the case when they clash with the Rangers for a best-of-seven set that decides who will advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup finals. As Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in advance of the series opener, "We respect Montreal quite a bit." That sort of diplomacy from Vigneault, who also called the Habs "favorites" in the series, isn’t surprising considering he got his start as a head coach in Montreal back in 1997. He is close with Montreal head coach Michel Therrien, so don’t expect the same sort of pointed barbs between the two coaches that we all witnessed with Therrien and Bruins coach Claude Julien.

Ghostbusters: Prior to the Rangers’ first regular-season game in Montreal this season, Vigneault felt the need to dispel any myths surrounding the team’s ominous record at Bell Centre. According to veteran center Brad Richards, Vigneault cracked a joke to the team, assuring it there are "no ghosts" in the building and that they were fully capable of leaving Montreal with a win. Turns out, he was right, as backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout against the Habs in Montreal on Nov. 16, snapping an eight-game losing streak. Can Henrik Lundqvist exorcise the demons as well? The former Vezina Trophy winner has not played in the building since Jan. 12 but has been stellar so far this postseason for the Rangers.

Nash slump: Rangers winger Rick Nash has yet to score a goal during the 2014 playoffs, and you can bet that the dispiriting skid has taken its toll on the big-money man. Nash has played well away from the puck and has been an effective penalty killer, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has not been able to find the back of the net. He has scored only one playoff goal in two seasons as a Blueshirt, though he said his scoring woes are made manageable by the fact that the team is still winning. Said Nash: "The team’s big picture is way bigger than my individual struggles."

Heavy heart: Martin St. Louis returns to his native Montreal for the first time since he made an impromptu visit last Thursday after learning of his mother’s sudden death. France St. Louis died of a heart attack at age 63 last week, a tragic loss that rocked St. Louis and his Rangers teammates. St. Louis returned to play just one day after her death, however, a courageous decision that inspired the team and changed the course of its second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The entire team will be on hand to attend France’s funeral, which will be a private service held in Montreal on Sunday.

Dangerous defenseman: The Rangers had to neutralize two of the game’s most talented tandem of forwards during Round 2, and now they will be tasked with containing the league’s most dynamic defenseman in Montreal’s P.K. Subban. The 25-year-old defenseman has had a sensational playoff run thus far with four goals and 12 points in 11 games for the Habs.
videoNEW YORK -- Frustration is mounting and the agitation is palpable, and at no time was that more evident than when the restless crowd at Madison Square Garden unleashed their dissatisfaction on embattled winger Rick Nash.

With the New York Rangers trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period and the top-line forward struggling mightily in yet another critical postseason game, fans booed Nash when he touched the puck. They directed their ire at Nash, not just for his own personal failings, but the team’s overall ineptitude in the club’s 4-2 loss Wednesday night -- a defeat that leaves them trailing 3-1 in the series.

Either way, it touched a nerve.

[+] EnlargeRick Nash
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesRick Nash was booed by the Madison Square Garden crowd on Wednesday.
Nash’s teammates weren’t happy with it. Neither was his coach.

“Does it upset me? Yeah. It upsets everybody in the locker room,” veteran center and alternate captain Brad Richards said. “We’re not 15th in the league ... we’re in the second round of the playoffs. But that’s my opinion. I understand sports and where it’s all at, so does he, so does everyone in here, but it’s not one person, it isn’t. It’s the whole team. As a team, we didn’t play tonight, and for one guy, two guys to get booed or whatever it is, that’s frustrating for us as a team because we all put our foot in this together tonight.”

Vigneault was careful to couch his answer, deferring to the fans’ right to show their anger, but he made an impassioned plea for a different response should the Rangers stave off elimination in Game 5 on Friday and force a Game 6 back at the Garden.

“Ultimately the fans can do what they want,” Vigneault said. “I prefer right now, if fans were supportive. It may not look it right now, but we’re trying our guts off here.”

Nash wasn't the only star that failed the get the job done. Martin St. Louis had one particularly rough outing, Derek Stepan's game continued to flounder and defenseman Ryan McDonagh has looked uncharacteristically for the entire post-season. Nash, however, is becoming the whipping boy for the team's collection of no-shows.

Though he lead the team with four shots on goal Wednesday night, it has been the quality of chances that are making fans turn on the two-time Olympic gold medalist. Too many of those chances seem to come from the perimeter and not nearly enough from driving to the net. He passed up a wide-open shot during the first period, when the Rangers penned Pittsburgh in for extended zone time; he wasn’t able to corral a bouncing puck for a clean attempt later in the game. Whether he’s just in a rut or whether he’s become more passive in his play as a result of his recent concussion history (and honestly, if that’s the case, who could blame him?), he isn’t putting his head down and bulling his way to the crease. He isn’t using his size, skill or creativity to get to the dirty areas.

And for that, the fans let him know that won’t be tolerated.

After the game, Nash seemed well aware that the treatment comes with the territory of playing in a big market and under the terms of a whopping eight-year contract that pays him $7.8 annually. Playing in Columbus might have allowed him to avoid the same sort of scrutiny, but he will not escape that criticism here. Wednesday was a stark reminder that no matter how many 30, or even 40-goal seasons he has had in the past, they will be rendered moot without playoff success.

And now he finds himself in that unenviable position: Just one goal in 23 playoff games in his two years with the Rangers. And not one yet during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

“It doesn’t matter what you do all year,” Nash said. “It matters what you do in the playoffs, when things count. And, obviously I’ve been struggling.”

This is not the first time that Rangers fans have proven fickle. After all, we have seen this before.

Marian Gaborik was scapegoated during the 2012 playoffs, labeled as the type of guy you couldn’t count on during crunch time, only for it to be revealed later that he was playing through a significant shoulder injury that required surgery later that summer.

Richards got his turn as the target, when his play regressed and he was ultimately benched, prompting many fans to clamor for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner to be bought out.

Meanwhile, Gaborik is doing just fine as a game-breaker for the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference semifinals. And though Richards might not be able to avoid the buyout this summer, it won’t be because of performance or leadership (he has been, for some time, the de facto captain of this club), but rather the crippling cap recapture penalties looming should he retire before the expiry of his nine-year contract in 2020.

So, this begs the question: What does the future hold for Nash?

Can the team afford to hang onto him if he continues to fail to produce in the playoffs? Do they have a choice?

Nash is still an elite goal-scorer. He led the team with 26 goals this season and has amassed 336 goals in eleven seasons in the NHL. But his cap hit is prohibitive, which would greatly curtail the number of teams that could have interest in trading for the former first overall draft pick. Complicating matters is that he has a no-trade clause and doesn’t have to go anywhere he doesn’t see as a good fit.

All this is speculative at this point, but these will certainly be questions that arise if the Rangers go down swiftly in yet another five-game set during the second round of the playoffs. If Nash doesn’t find a way to show some life or find the back of the net, those questions will only persist.

“Obviously, he feels a lot of pressure right now and I have to tell you, he’s battling real hard,” Vigneault said. “Maybe we can rally around that and have a good game in Pittsburgh.”
NEW YORK -- Of course this series between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers was going to go to Game 7. And of course this was going to be a winner-take-all match that went right down to the wire, with both teams’ respective seasons hanging in the balance as time wound down in the third period.

It was a final frame that seemed interminable for the Rangers, desperately clutching a one-goal lead and feeling each tick of the clock as if it were an eternity.

But at the end of regulation, the better team was left standing as the Rangers held on to knock off the Flyers 2-1 in Game 7 to advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where they will face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[+] EnlargeNew York Rangers
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsThe Rangers prevailed in yet another Game 7 at the Garden.
“It’s a sense of relief,” said winger Rick Nash, whose goal drought continued Wednesday night despite a team-leading five shots. “You have two chances at it and we couldn’t get the job done on the first chance, so it’s a moment of relief and excitement.”

Nash is of course referring to the Rangers' inability to close out the series Tuesday night in Game 6 and that nagging stat that the Rangers just can’t quite seem to shake: 12 consecutive losses when leading in a playoff series.

But the Blueshirts began anew Wednesday night in a game that provided the type of pace and intensity that the series otherwise lacked. Both teams came out strong, but it was Flyers goaltender Steve Mason who was dazzling from the drop of the puck.

Mason was absolutely sensational in his third start of the series for the Flyers, even when the Rangers began to surge in the second period. It was former Flyer Daniel Carcillo who first got the Rangers on the board against his old club, notching his second goal of the series after replacing J.T. Miller in the lineup following a pair of games as a healthy scratch. Mats Zuccarello enabled Carcillo with a jaw-dropping backhanded pass laced through two different Flyers defenders.

Still, with the Flyers down 1-0 Mason was doing his part to steal the show. But despite several sequences of stunning saves from the 25-year-old netminder, who missed the first three games of the series with what he has subsequently revealed to be a concussion, the Rangers solved him again with Benoit Pouliot’s marker later in the period.

It wasn’t the stars who ended up on the score sheet for the Rangers, but that was only fitting for a team that has received well-balanced contributions from throughout the lineup all season long.

“That’s the great thing about our team. Different guys have been different heroes all through the year or throughout this series, as you can see. Every night, every win we’ve had we’ve had different guys step up,” said veteran center Brad Richards. “That’s a good sign for our team.”

As is the continued steadiness of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was rock solid when necessary as the Flyers came buzzing back in the third period, a clear statement that they would not go quietly.

Rookie forward Jason Akeson cut the Rangers’ lead in half, 2-1, and New York played much of the period on its heels, but Lundqvist was composed between the pipes as the Rangers white-knuckled their way to the buzzer.

Lundqvist did not have the same sort of outstanding performance as Mason, who was saddled with the loss despite making 31 saves, but he recorded a win and that was the only important statistic that means anything to the former Vezina Trophy winner.

"We knew they were going to push in the third and they came pretty hard, but the puck management was really good," said Lundqvist. "it's just exciting, that last minute is so intense and you're nervous but at the same time you just want to see what's going to happen next. The final second, that's probably the best feeling."

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Lundqvist has tied an NHL record with four consecutive Game 7 wins, tying Cam Ward, Ed Belfour and Patrick Roy.

“It’s almost a thing that’s out of your mind,” said defenseman Marc Staal, who finished the game with a team-leading 24:28 in ice time. “You never have to think what will be back there because you know he’s going to be there.”

Now, the Rangers can finally put the Flyers out of their mind, too, after seesawing with their division rivals all series. There will be at least one night to relish a series victory before planning and preparation begin for Round 2.

“A good sense of accomplishment,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said when asked about the feeling in the room following the win. “But we know there’s a long road [ahead]; we’re trying to accomplish something even bigger.”

That begins, of course, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets in a bitter, physical and wildly entertaining first-round series that ended with a decisive Pens victory Monday night. While the Penguins have had a few days to rest while awaiting their second-round foe, the Rangers won’t have that same luxury of recovery.

Instead, they’ll make a quick turnaround, jumping on a plane to Pittsburgh on Thursday to prepare for what will be their third game in four nights.

That may not be the worst thing, however.

“No thinking. Right back to work. Right back to what we’re doing here,” Richards said. “Now you’re in it and it’s fun, so why not start right away?”

Rangers need more from Nash

April, 26, 2014
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Rick NashAP PhotoIn Rick Nash, the Rangers invested a ton of money to get a bona fide star. He must step up.
NEW YORK -- So far, Rick Nash's seminal moment as a New York Ranger was his inspired, fiery performance against his former club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the last month of the regular season.

With Nash playing in Columbus for the first time since the blockbuster trade that brought him to New York two summers ago, we saw a side of him that's rarely seen. The usually calm and composed former captain dropped his mitts against Columbus’ Matt Calvert, trading punches in a rare outburst of emotion. This came just one period after he nailed Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky in the throat with a robust crosscheck.

Maybe it was the boos from the Blue Jackets fans, maybe it was the earlier whacks Bobrovsky took, but, either way, Nash appeared to harness some raw, untapped emotions. He became emboldened to play with some edge. Nash didn't end up on the score sheet that night, but it didn't matter. The Rangers' bench was thrilled.

Nash hasn’t yet had a moment like that in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not in the four games his Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings back in 2009, and not since arriving on Broadway with the billing of bona fide game-breaker.

[+] EnlargeRick Nash
Len Redkoles/Getty ImagesNash has just one goal in 16 playoff games with the Broadway Blueshirts.
Although he led the team with 26 goals this regular season, he has just one in 16 total playoff games as a Ranger. And, despite a frenzied effort on his last shift in the third period of Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in which he monopolized the puck and buzzed the net, he couldn’t score that type of clutch goal the Rangers so desperately needed to take a two-game series edge.

“Rick really wants to do well, and he’s trying every shift he’s on the ice to put his best foot forward. It’s a tough league. The opposition, when you have an elite player like that, obviously has a plan. He’s got to keep working. He’s got to try to elevate his game. He knows he’s a big part of us having success, winning games and moving forward,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Saturday. “The one thing I don’t have doubt about him is his willingness.”

What must be frustrating about Nash’s lack of success in the playoffs, to his team and to the fans, is the sort of tools with which he is equipped. He has been one of the Rangers’ top possession players all season, with one of the best Fenwick ratings in the regular season and through the first four games of this playoff series. He is a big body, strong on his skates and tough to move off the puck. But, beyond the size, he has the skill. Not many hulking forwards have the same sort of finesse Nash possesses, but he hasn’t seemed to find a way to exploit both facets of his game.

And for a guy who is clear about what he needs to do to be successful -- Nash always says he is at his best when he is driving the net hard and getting to the dirty areas of the ice -- he seems reluctant to do so.

“I don’t think it was difficult enough,” Nash told reporters after Friday’s game when asked about the pressure mounted against Flyers goaltender Steve Mason. “Get more traffic, more primary scoring chances. We had a lot of stuff from the outside.”

To be fair, the Flyers have pinpointed Nash as a key player to contain. Not only him but a first line that also includes young center Derek Stepan and veteran forward Martin St. Louis. Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn did masterful work in neutralizing Nash’s effectiveness Friday night, so much so that Flyers coach Craig Berube -- not someone effusive when it comes to praise -- almost gushed about his performance.

“I thought Coburn had a great game. He really skated tonight. He was strong on the puck, strong on his breakout plays. He did a great job down low against Nash,” Berube said. “He’s not an easy guy to check.”

Nash was rendered ineffective when the team needed him most last spring, in a physical semifinal series against the Boston Bruins in which the Rangers were outclassed in pretty much all areas: size, snarl and skill. He managed just one goal that series. It stands as his lone playoff marker as a Blueshirt, one that came in a 5-2 loss. With the first-round series against the Flyers tied 2-2, New York can’t afford to have him be absent again.

The Rangers gave up a ton to get him two years ago, after a disappointing loss in the Eastern Conference finals to the New Jersey Devils that left them feeling they lacked just one pivotal piece. They took on his hefty, eight-year, $62.4 million contract with confidence they were investing in a star.

Now, it’s time for him to play like one.

“It’s his time. It’s our team’s time,” Vigneault said. “This is a team game. He’s a big part of that, and he’s trying to do his best.”
NEW YORK -- With the Philadelphia Flyers sorting out their goaltending situation -- starter Steve Mason declared himself out for Game 2 on Sunday (click here for the full story) -- the New York Rangers have paid little attention to what is happening on the other side of the series.

Regardless of which goaltender is in net each game -- Mason or Ray Emery, the Rangers feel no need to deviate from the plan that propelled them to a 4-1 win against the Flyers in Game 1 on Thursday night.

They have a blueprint moving forward, and they plan to stick with that as much as possible.

“We know our game plan works if we all buy into it,” said top-line winger Rick Nash.

Nash helped spark that effort against Emery Thursday night with a team-high seven shots on goal against the Flyers backup. He picked up one assist by game’s end and said he hopes to drive the net even harder in Game 2.

“We have the same game plan. To get traffic, try to shoot from all angles. No matter what goalie you’re playing, you’re going to have to out-work him to score,” Nash said.

By comparison, the Flyers’ top line struggled to create chances, with both captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek failing to register a shot on goal.

The team had a decent start against the Rangers in hostile territory at Madison Square Garden, but the forecheck faltered and the Flyers ended up chasing play all night.

“In my mind, we didn’t play Flyers hockey,” said veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen.

So what is that exactly?

“It’s more skating and hitting,” he said. “We’ve got to forecheck really hard.”

Look for the Flyers to be more aggressive in that facet of their game on Sunday, when they aim to even the series 1-1 before the best-of-seven set shifts back to Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the Rangers will look to make some small adjustments as well.

“Five-on-five there were a couple of areas as far as getting more situations in front of the net,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said when asked where he’d like to see his team improve.

Indeed, if there was any area in which the Rangers struggled, it was the prolonged stretches in which they were kept to the perimeter.

That’s not ideal for the type of pressure they’d like to create, obviously.

Instead, the Rangers aim to attack the middle of the ice and wreak havoc in front of Emery down low.

“If that’s not where we are, that’s where we need to get,” said veteran center Brad Richards, who finished Thursday’s game with a goal and two assists.

The Rangers sealed the game with a pair of power-play goals on Thursday, but Richards admitted it could’ve gone the other way had the team not killed off a huge penalty at the beginning of the third period.

Richards said the team expects much more from the Flyers on Sunday. And the Rangers will be ready.

“This is where we have to realize the level is going to go way higher and we can’t get caught resting on Game 1,” Richards said. “It’s a whole new game. It’s going to be a whole new speed, intensity level and we’ve got to rise to that.”
Islanders 7, Stars 3
FROM ELIAS: John Tavares recorded five points in a game for the second time in his NHL career when he tallied three goals and two assists in the Islanders’ 7–3 win over Stars. Tavares’ other five-point performance was on March 16, 2010, when he scored two goals and assisted on three in a 5–2 Islanders victory at Vancouver. Before Tavares did it against Dallas on Monday, the last Islanders player to register a five-point game that included a hat trick was Zigmund Palffy with three goals and two assists in a 7–2 win at Pittsburgh on April 17, 1999.

Flames 4, Avalanche 3
FROM ELIAS: Nathan MacKinnon, who scored a pair of goals in Colorado’s win over the Sharks on Saturday, became the youngest player in NHL history to score at least two goals in each of two consecutive team games when he tallied twice for the Avalanche against Calgary on Monday night. MacKinnon (age 18 years, 127 days) broke the record set by Dale Hawerchuk with the original Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 23–25, 1981 (age 18 years, 204 days).

Blue Jackets 4, Rangers 3 (F/SO)
FROM ELIAS: Rick Nash scored two goals for the Rangers in their shootout loss to the team he played for during the first nine seasons of his NHL career, the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was only the fourth time that a former Columbus player scored two goals in a game against the Blue Jackets. The other ex-Blue Jackets to do that were Mike Sillinger (March 13, 2004 for St. Louis), Francois Beauchemin (March 14, 2007 for Anaheim) and Raffi Torres (Dec. 23, 2010 for Vancouver).

Canadiens 2, Panthers 1
FROM ELIAS: Carey Price reached the 20-win mark with the Canadiens for the fourth consecutive season with his 2–1 victory against the Panthers on Monday night. Patrick Roy won at least 20 games for Montreal in each of nine consecutive seasons from 1985–86 through 1993–94, but since then only Price and Jose Theodore (2000–01 through 2003–04) have posted four straight 20-win seasons for the Canadiens.

Nash to practice with team Wednesday

November, 12, 2013
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NEW YORK -- Another good sign for Rick Nash as he makes progress toward a return from concussion: According to coach Alain Vigneault, Nash will rejoin the team for a full practice for the first time since sustaining the injury. Vigneault announced the news before Tuesday's game against the Devils at Madison Square Garden.

Nash, who has been sidelined for over a month, skated for his fourth consecutive day Tuesday, but has yet to participate in a full session with his Rangers teammates. This development suggests he continues to be symptom-free and feels capable of ramping up his workload.

Still, Vigneault said the team is reluctant to set a timetable, given the uncertainty with concussions.

Nash has not played since being forced from the Rangers' 9-2 loss to San Jose after taking an elbow to the head from Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart, who was slapped with a three-game ban for the play.

Nash to miss Rangers' trip to Columbus

November, 7, 2013
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Rick NashEric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsRick Nash has been sidelined since suffering a concussion on Oct. 8.
NEW YORK -- A short video montage was shown on the JumboTron at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, with a quick flash of winger Rick Nash smiling at the cameras, then in action on the ice.

As Nash approaches the one-month mark of sitting out with a concussion, that brief, five-second sequence is the most we’ve seen of the injured winger in recent weeks.

The Rangers, of course, play in Columbus on Thursday night for the first time since the blockbuster deal that brought Nash to New York in the summer of 2012. It was supposed to be a momentous night for the former first overall pick, who spent nine seasons in Columbus.

Instead, his absence will hang heavy as concern grows about the 29-year-old’s health.

“It would have been nice for Rick to be there for the first time,” said Derick Brassard, who also came east in a trade to New York from Columbus, less than a year after Nash, at the deadline in 2013. “It would have been nice for the fans in Columbus to see him again. I just hope he’s going to be healthy real soon. The team needs him -- he’s our best offensive player -- so yeah, it’s pretty disappointing that he’s not going to be able to make that trip.”

Since sustaining the head injury on an elbow from Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart on Oct. 8, Nash has rarely been seen around the team, although a source informed ESPNNewYork.com that he has performed intermittent physical activity at the Rangers' training center in Westchester and “continues to do so.”

But any question of a potential return is met with the Rangers’ constant refrain with regard to their $7.8 million dollar man: “Nothing new.”

Nash was dispatched to see Michigan-based concussion specialist Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a source told both ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun and ESPNNewYork.com’s Katie Strang, but that visit was not recent. The Rangers have sent a few of their other players to see Kutcher previously -- he is the team’s preferred neurologist -- so it’s hard to discern what that meeting bodes for Nash’s condition.

Until Nash begins skating with the team, it’s difficult to speculate exactly how long he will be out. Will he even be available to play the next time the Rangers visit Nationwide Arena, on March 21?

The problem with trying to understand concussions, or deduce a reasonable timeline, is that rarely are two alike.

Nash suffered a concussion last season as well, and although the hit he sustained from Milan Lucic was similar to the one that knocked him from play this time around, the recovery times have not been similar.

No one knows about the murky, nebulous nature of head injuries better than Sidney Crosby, who battled two concussions that limited the superstar to a mere eight games in a matter of 14 months from 2011 to 2012.

He reached out to Nash, with whom he's played for Team Canada, to lend a sympathetic ear.

“It’s tough to see when guys are going through something like that,” Crosby said. “Hopefully, he’s improving.”

Like Nash, Crosby went to see Kutcher, who, he found through the NHLPA as “someone who was recommended pretty highly.”

“There’s different ways of diagnosing what your main problem is or what seem to be your main symptoms," Crosby said before the Pittsburgh Penguins' 5-1 loss to the Rangers. "You don’t want to get too many opinions sometimes, but you definitely want to try to understand what kind of seems to fit your diagnosis and what people seem to think as far as how to recover and the best ways to do that.”

The Rangers and Nash are likely trying to sort that out now. Where his recovery goes from here, and how long it will take, remain to be seen.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Penguins

November, 6, 2013
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At a glance: After coming up short against the league-leading Anaheim Ducks Monday night, the New York Rangers face another big test Wednesday when they host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden. The Penguins enter Wednesday’s match with a four-game winning streak that has them perched in first place of the Eastern Conference.

First look: Having previously coached in the Western Conference, Alain Vigneault hasn’t seen Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in action much in recent years. He admitted he was excited about the challenge facing his team: “I think everybody’s going to be ready for tonight."

Hometown boy: Rangers forward J.T. Miller returns to the lineup after being scratched Monday night to face his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh-area native is trying to make a strong impression while the Rangers organization determines what is best for the young winger: send him to the AHL to play top minutes or keep him in a more limited role with the big club. Making room for Miller’s return to the lineup is hulking forward Brandon Mashinter, who will sit out along with depth defenseman Justin Falk.

Leading the way: Crosby leads the league with 23 points through the first 15 games of the season. His dominant offensive production has been vital considering the team has suffered some significant injuries up front. The Pens are without James Neal and Beau Bennett, though Neal joined the Penguins for the morning skate for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury last month.

Nothing on Nash: Speaking of injuries, the Rangers still say there is nothing to report on injured winger Rick Nash, who suffered a concussion last month. The star forward will not be available when the Rangers travel to Columbus for the first time since acquiring Nash in a blockbuster deal with the Blue Jackets during the offseason of 2012.

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