‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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New York Rangers winger Rick Nash says he’s “as hungry as ever to get that championship.”
After being eliminated in the second round by the Boston Bruins last year, Nash feels there’s a chip on his team’s shoulders going into the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. As a whole, the Rangers are desperate to make a deeper run this time around.
“I think everyone should have a chip on their shoulder to perform and get the job done,” Nash said after Wednesday’s practice. “Last year, we finished off not the way we wanted it to. I think it’s important to go into the playoffs with that chip on it.”
Nash has noticed the focus of the city shifting to the Rangers now that their playoff campaign is about to kick off. Game 1 against the rival Philadelphia Flyers is Thursday night at MSG.
“It’s an exciting time,” Nash said. “You feel that much more excitement toward the Rangers once the playoffs start.”
Keep in mind, Nash has only had the opportunity to experience 16 playoff games in his career, and 12 were added to his resume in his first season in New York. He said he’s learned something from each of his postseason experiences.
The 29-year-old winger only scored one goal and registered four four assists in 12 games during last year’s playoffs.
“Each time I can take things from it,” Nash said. “Last year, was staying with it when things aren’t going right.”
This could be Nash’s chance to truly endear himself to Rangers fans by putting in some dominant performances against the hated Flyers. He’s fully healthy this time, he’s fully capable of catching fire at any time with a combination of natural strength, skillful hands, powerful shot and quick instincts.
In 15 career games against the Flyers, Nash has seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.
MASON WILL MISS GAME 1
On Wednesday, Flyers head coach Craig Berube announced that No. 1 goalie Steve Mason (upper-body injury) would not be able to play in Game 1. That means backup Ray Emery will stand between the pipes when the puck drops at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday.
Nash has a lot of experience against Emery dating back to their time as teenagers in the Ontario Hockey League. On Thursday, they’ll duel for the first time under the postseason spotlight.
“They’re different hand goalies, so you pick different spots to shoot, but they’re both great goalies,” Nash said. “I’ve played against Emery basically since I was 16, and I played with Mason for years, so we’re going to have to out-work them if we want to score.”
The Flyers will be hoping that the 33-18-7 Mason will eventually return this series. Last Saturday, the 25-year-old was on the receiving end of a nasty collision with teammate Andrew MacDonald, who was pushed into his own net by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jayson Megna. The force of the collision caused Mason’s head to snap back. He did not practice on Wednesday.
Emery finished the regular season below .500 at 9-12-2 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
Emery has a tendency to lose focus and play inconsistently between the pipes, but has strong career numbers against the Rangers. He’s 7-2-0 in 10 regular-season games against New York, posting an impressive 1.87 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.
“Emery’s a great goalie,” Nash said. “He’s been in this league awhile. I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage.”
STRALMAN ON NASH: ‘IT’S GREAT TO HAVE A GUY THAT CAN SCORE OUT OF NOTHING’
Anton Stralman has been teammates with Nash in both Columbus and New York. The 27-year-old Swede has been impressed by Nash’s abilities to create scoring chances from out of nowhere.
“He’s one of the guys we really need out there,” Stralman said. “He’s obviously had a good year for us, he’s scoring some big goals, creating a lot of scoring chances by himself. It’s always great to have a guy that can score out of nothing. Hopefully, he can really put his ‘A’ game on this playoffs.”
Stralman has seen firsthand how difficult it is to move Nash off the puck during practices and knows the 6-foot-4 winger’s strength and skilled hands can cause havoc for opponents.
“He’s got a big frame,” Stralman said. “He’s very good at protecting the puck. He uses his body well. (We’ve) practiced together for a long time — he’s very strong, he’s got very good hands, has a strong stick. When he plays like that and is really a force out there — finishing checks and all that good stuff, he’s one of the top forwards in the league. Hopefully we can see a lot that.”
RICHARDS BELIEVES FLYERS WILL FOCUS THEIR ATTENTION ON NASH
Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards describes Nash as the ultimate professional. One think you’ll never hear from Nash is bellyaching.
“I know just being around him, he’s a pretty low-maintenance, laid-back guy,” Richards said. “He’s quiet and he goes about his work. You don’t hear a lot of complaining or whining, or anything. He comes to work every day very professionally.”
Richards knows the Flyers will focus their attention on Nash. He believes Nash is capable of finding a number of ways of contributing even when drawing the attention of multiple defenders.
“We need him,” Richards said. ” We need all our top guys. Playoff time is when everybody has to perform. He’ll have some attention on him, he’s good at figuring out other ways to contribute to the team. We don’t expect anything different.”
BRASSARD AND MCDONAGH WILL PLAY IN GAME 1
There was a worry that center Derick Brassard would miss Game 1 when he exited practice early. J.T. Miller took Brassard’s place between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello at the end of practice.
When Brassard spoke on Wednesday, he said he was 100 percent ready to play in Thursday’s series opener.
“I felt really good,” Brassard said. “I didn’t skate at the end of practice just for precaution, and I feel 100 percent for (Game 1). There’s no question in my mind.”
“You go through a season and you battle injuries,” he added. “Everyone does around the league. It’s a long season. Probably a few days ago I wasn’t 100 percent, but I think after the last two days I’m 100 percent and that’s what counts. I want to be ready to help the team play tomorrow.”
Brassard left Tuesday’s practice after clutching his lower back. The injury isn’t serious enough to prevent Brassard from centering the Rangers’ most dominant line, which is a huge relief for the Blueshirts. Brassard has established himself as one of the Rangers’ most creative forwards.
Key defenseman Ryan McDonagh said there’s no reason to ask for updates on his left shoulder, as he has a full range of motion and no restrictions. McDonagh was able to take some powerful slap-shots at Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s great,” McDonagh said. “There are no restrictions or anything, so at this point there’s really no reason to ask how it’s doing anymore. I feel good, and I’m excited.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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