‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Rick Nash is a rare breed among NHL stars. The 6’4″ winger has an ability to score amazing goals at any given moment when he’s on the ice.
Nash scored a jaw-dropping, game-winning goal on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. With time running out in regulation, Chris Kreider brought the puck from behind Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen’s net and banked a shot off Lehtonen’s mask.
Alertly, Nash followed the play — and while falling, lifted his stick around Stars’ defenseman Aaron Rome to whack the puck past Lehtonen top-shelf.
The Garden erupted as the goal horn sounded. Meanwhile, heads slumped on the visiting Stars’ bench as if they had been punched in the gut. The scoreboard clock read 1:58 in the third period, and the Rangers proceeded to close out a tight 3-2 victory over the Stars to bring themselves three games above the .500 mark.
It appears that the Rangers are on the upswing. Nash is providing moments of sheer awe, the Blueshirts are executing on special teams and franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist has found his game.
Following the game, the soft-spoken Nash was humble about his thrilling game-winning goal.
“It was probably 70 percent luck, 30 percent skill,” Nash said. “I was just falling. The puck rolled up. It went a little higher than I anticipated. Luckily enough, it went in.”
Mats Zuccarello had a different view when asked whether Nash’s goal was the product of fortunate luck or pure skill.
“Skill, obviously,” Zuccarello replied.
“It was nice to see Nasher get the 3-2 goal. It was a hard battle game,” Zuccarello said.
Nash has now collected three goals in his past three games.
Although he did not score in Chicago, Nash’s improved play has made a sizeable difference.
“He is playing great,” Lundqvist said. “He is so strong with the puck and that goal was huge for us to get that win at home.”
There’s a reason why Nash was selected to Team Canada ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics over a number of fellow star names that were putting up superior first-half numbers. He appears to be getting back to the electrifying level that allowed him to register 42 points in 44 games in his first season as a Ranger.
Nash and the Rangers are looking to continue building the momentum on Sunday against a rival Flyers team that has caught fire of late. Philadelphia have won seven of their last eight games.
Both Nash and a number of teammates mentioned that Wednesday’s statement victory in Chicago wouldn’t mean anything if they didn’t earn a win on home ice on Friday.
“That’s what we talked about before the game. Going to a building like Chicago and getting two points is huge, but it doesn’t mean much if we don’t get that win tonight. Tonight kind of puts the exclamation mark on (Wednesday’s) win, and now we have to worry about Sunday.”
Teammate Derick Brassard feels that the Rangers are showing a real desire to pull out victories and sees this team trending in the right direction.
“We just stick with it, we find a way. That’s the only reason why we got two points,” Brassard said. “Now we’re back in the race. That’s what we want to do. Sunday’s just gonna be another day for us, another game. We’ll just take it one game at a time.”
MILLER SENT TO HARTFORD
J.T. Miller briefly appeared in the Rangers’ locker room following the game. He was dressed in a winter coat and cap. A bus was warming up in the tunnel, ready to bring Miller to minor-league Hartford.
Vigneault confirmed that Miller will play in back-to-back games for the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’ve told him he’s going back to Hartford,” Vigneault said. “They’re playing (Saturday) and Sunday, so we wanted him to go and play.”
The transaction was later confirmed by the Rangers.
Through 25 NHL games in 2013-14, Miller has registered two goals and two assists. He is a minus-7 and was scratched in each of the Blueshirts’ consecutive wins.
Statistics do not bear out the noticeable improvement in Miller’s game. It’s possible that this will be a short-term demotion and the Rangers could opt to bring Miller back to New York quickly.
The Rangers recently acquired rugged winger Daniel Carcillo to replace fourth-liner Derek Dorsett, who suffered a broken fibula on January 3 in Pittsburgh.
Carcillo made a noticeable impact in his home debut on Friday. The physical forward unleashed a game-high eight hits, including some huge checks that excited The Garden crowd.
For now, Miller will have to focus on rediscovering his scoring touch in Hartford.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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