‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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With a predicted 12:30 p.m. temperature of 20 degrees and a wind chill that will make it feel closer to 13 degrees, Yankee Stadium will be a cold, blustery building when traditional rivals in the Rangers and Devils meet in the first-ever outdoor professional hockey game held in New York City.
According to Legends Hospitality, there will be approximately 7,000 gallons of hot chocolate brewed to keep fans warm throughout Sunday’s clash between the Rangers and Devils and Wednesday’s bitterly-cold 7:30 p.m. face-off between the Rangers and their long-standing rival Islanders.
Besides the warming hot chocolate and stadium concessions available, fans in attendance will need to generate body heat by moving around in their seats. Rangers winger Rick Nash is one of a very few players who have the ability to create a rise of anticipation when he’s on the puck. His all-world ability frequently brings captivated fans out of their seats.
Heading to the Stadium Series, Nash is carrying a four-game goal streak with six goals scored during the streak. He has registered 10 goals in his last 10 games, and leads the Blueshirts with 17 goals in 2013-14.
“He’s confident when he’s got the puck. I think you can see it,” alternate captain Marc Staal said. “Everything he’s touching has been going to the net. That’s obviously, great for us. Hopefully, he keeps that up.”
Lately, Nash is registering high shot totals and becoming a nearly unstoppable force on the ice. Nash has sometimes been accused of being laid-back and soft-spoken by fans. Underneath it all, there’s an undoubted burning passion to succeed.
In his second season in New York, Nash has become more vocal on the ice and when communicating on the bench and inside the locker room. Just ask teammate Ryan McDonagh.
“If you ask him, he wants to get the win as much as anyone,” McDonagh said. “You can see him taking a lot more, anticipating where pucks are going and wanting pucks in certain places. He’s been a leader for our team since he’s gotten here and in the past. He steps up, makes big plays and tries to get everybody involved.”
Nash’s value to the Rangers goes far beyond his renowned sniping abilities, remarkable strength on the puck and quick instincts. Backup goalie Cam Talbot has forged a quick friendship with Nash and describes him as the ultimate teammate.
“He’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around,” Talbot said. “He’s probably one of nicest guys you’ll ever meet off the ice. He works really hard and he’ll do anything for a teammate. It’s just the kind of guy you want in the room and a great leader on the ice.”
Whether it’s teammates, coaches or rival players — there’s one word that no one uses when describing Nash — ego. It seems that Nash is programmed entirely to benefit his teammates.
“As a leader, in the leadership group — it’s important that in times like these that you step up and try to lead,” Nash said after the Dec. 20 defeat at MSG. “We’ve got to turn this around and start to pick up guys.”
Nash took it upon himself to raise his game. From that point forward, the Rangers climbed their way up the Metropolitan Division standings and Eastern Conference ladder. The Rangers are now 27-23-3 and only trail the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings.
The division-leading Penguins have a wide 17-point advantage over the second-place Rangers, who are being chased in a highly-competitive Metropolitan Division. It’s tightly-packed underneath the dominant, pace-setting Penguins.
It will be crucial for the Rangers to take full advantage of Stadium Series match-ups against the Devils and Isles. After the Stadium Series concludes, the Rangers will again face the Islanders at MSG on Friday.
As for Nash, there doesn’t seem to be any way of stopping the 6’4″ winger from getting game-winning goals and producing moments of brilliance. The Stadium Series itself could be the platform for Nash to further enhance his reputation among die-hard Blueshirts fans.
It seems like a very long time ago that Garden fans directed “We don’t want you!” chants at Nash amid trade speculation in February 2012. In present day 2014, Nash has firmly stitched himself into the Rangers’ Original Six fabric. He’s a very big part of this team and one who has proven he’ll do whatever it takes to usher the Blueshirts to future glories.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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