‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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After falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of Game 6, the playoff dream ended for the New York Islanders.
The New York Rangers will be looking to avoid a similar fate when they hit the Garden ice at 4:30 p.m for Game 6 against the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
It’s hard to imagine the Blueshirts prolonging this series to a seventh game unless star forwards Rick Nash and Brad Richards make a significant impact in Game 6. So far, they’ve been near-missing all series.
The Rangers’ woeful 2-for-21 power play can be pinpointed to the underwhelming play of Richards and Nash, their two highest paid players.
Together, Nash and Richards earn in excess of $14.4 million per season. Fans attending Madison Square Garden have shelled out a good amount of coin to watch the Rangers struggle feebly on the power play for the majority of the season and find new levels of ineptitude during the playoffs.
It’s time this high-earning duo steps up and gives the fans their money’s worth in a do-or-die Game 6.
NASH BATTLING INJURIES, NOT MAKING EXCUSES
Rick Nash has been wearing a wrap on his left wrist for over a month. More worrying though are his legs. It appears that his legs are gone. He’s wobbling when he’s skating and he’s comically fallen over on multiple occasions. When Nash delivers a check, it’s without the force one would expect from a 6’4” 213 pound behemoth of a player.
While Nash isn’t broadcasting his injuries to media, this is the time of year when players are expected to dig deep regardless of what kind of injury they’re suffering from. For Nash, his right knee could be the main issue plaguing him. He attempted to check Capitals’ defenseman Mike Green in Game 3 and missed, slamming his right knee into the boards.
“I’ve had some chances, but I didn’t get the job done,” Nash told the media on Sunday. “No excuses, I’ve got to find a way to do it.”
Nash was held without a shot for 60 minutes of regulation in Game 5 in Washington. He was able to register two shots in overtime, before Mike Ribeiro notched the overtime winner for the Caps.
As long as Nash is able to pull on the Rangers’ uniform, fans have the right to demand more from their $7.8 million dollar man. The playoffs are the time of year when few players are operating at full capacity.
Through five series games, Nash hasn’t played like a warrior, nor has he gotten himself to the dirty areas of the ice required to score goals.
His lone offensive contribution came on a go-ahead assist on Derek Stepan’s Game 3 winner. Through five playoff games as a Ranger, Nash has only tallied one assist and is a minus-1.
The Rangers will need Nash to do more heavy lifting in a “backs against the wall” Game 6.
RICHARDS’ PROBLEMS ARE ALL MENTAL
Unlike Nash, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious injury dragging down Brad Richards’ play. Richards finished April strongly with 16 points in 14 games. That wave of confidence hasn’t carried over to the playoffs — where Richards has been almost entirely absent.
Richards has been a minus-2 player in the 2013 NHL playoffs. His only contribution came from an odd moment in Game 4 when Braden Holtby left his net and mishandled the puck, allowing Richards to shoot into a half-open net.
During his four seasons in Dallas, Richards was a dependable as an assist-man as you could find around the league. It’s been strange to watch him make poor decision, after poor decision quarterbacking the Rangers’ power play.
“I think he’s made some plays there,” head coach John Tortorella said of Richards on Saturday. “We need more.”
Richards better find his groove quickly. Should the Rangers lose Game 6, it could potentially be his last game as a Ranger. GM Glen Sather has the option to exercise an amnesty buyout on Richards’ contract either this summer or the next.
With restricted free agents Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello due raises and re-signing Ryane Clowe high on Sather’s priority list, Richards could be bought out to make room ahead of a shrinking salary cap in 2013-14.
You can follow Sean on Twitter — @HartnettHockey.
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