‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Superstar winger Rick Nash re-entered the Rangers’ lineup on Thursday night and his return paid immediate dividends for the struggling Blueshirts, who had previously dropped four straight games minus Nash’s services.
His presence galvanized the Rangers, who poured heaps of pressure on Tampa Bay Lightning net-minder Mathieu Garon. Nash led the charge as the Rangers swarmed Garon’s crease all night. By the time it was said and done, the Blueshirts had made life miserable for Garon by unleashing 42 shots on goal and secured a vital 4-1 victory that appears to be the turning point in their season.
It’s clear that Nash was champing at the bit for his chance to get back on the Garden ice. He didn’t waste any time and took full advantage from the get-go. As soon as Nash’s skates touched the ice, he sprung into action like a wild, unleashed dog.
His enthusiasm spread like wildfire across the Rangers’ bench. Suddenly, this was a different team than the one that struggled to establish a fore check in previous games. The Rangers’ skaters charged like a bat out of hell and forced Garon to buckle under a barrage of 20 first-period shots. It was Nash who was the catalyst, as his force-of-nature play produced 12 of the Rangers’ 42 total shots.
When Nash is at the peak of his powers, he generates an enormous amount of havoc for opposing goaltenders. His rare combination of strength, size, speed, tenacity and puck handling makes him almost uncontainable.
“When you get a guy like that back, everyone wants to bring their level up to where he is,” Carl Hagelin explained. “He’s one of the best players in the league. You can see how he brings size, and how the other team really respects him, and starts playing tentative around him.”
Pretty soon, Nash will capture the hearts of New Yorkers — not in a brief Jeremy Lin way, but instead in a Mark Messier way. After all, Messier arrived in New York in 1991 with the goal in mind of delivering a long-awaited Stanley Cup to the Rangers’ organization. Nash has the same goal in his sights and despite their struggles, the modern day Blueshirts have assembled a roster worthy of a trip to the 2013 Stanley Cup finals.
It’s just a matter of the Rangers finding their consistency and staying healthy. Last night, having Nash, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto back in the lineup provided a major boost for the Blueshirts. It was Nash’s return that made a major difference.
“He was unbelievable,” Henrik Lundqvist said of Nash. “He did everything out there and it’s impressive. But, at the same time, I know how good he is – so it doesn’t surprise me. It’s tough to come back and play a game like that, but great players can do that.”
Nash admitted, “he wasn’t there 100 percent, but it was pretty good” after the victory. It makes you wonder how good he’ll be once he’s at full health and the Rangers begin hitting their full stride as a team.
“We have to get streaky,” Nash stated. “I think if we build momentum off of tonight and carry it into the next one. We were doing a lot of good things, so I think we’ll be fine.”
The prospect of a fully-healthy Nash is a frightening prospect for opposing goalies and headache for opposing head coaches. His heavily-involved one goal, one assist performance against the Lightning is just a sampling of things to come for Nash – who’s ready to hit a higher gear and help propel the Rangers up the Eastern Conference ladder and lift this team above the unusual position of 10th place in the conference standings.
He’s fully capable of taking control of any given game and becoming a nightmare for opposition defensemen.
This is the reason why the Rangers dealt popular forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov to bring Nash to the stage of Madison Square Garden. Sooner rather than later, Nash will be the toast of The Big Apple.
Will Nash’s play help rocket the Rangers up the Eastern Conference ladder? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.