We’ve gotten to know him for a while. Ever since Rick Nash was acquired from the Blue Jackets in the summer of 2012, he’s been a exceptional Ranger.
The admirable 33-year old veteran forward isn’t the scorer he once was. Injuries and age have caught up. However, you’ll never see Nash take a shift off. This is a prideful man who has been a 40 goalscorer three times including ‘14-15 in Year 3 as a Blueshirt. In that season, he scored a career high 42 while adding 27 assists for a team best 69 points in 79 contests. He was better that postseason totaling 14 points (5-9-14) in a deep run that fell just short of a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how valuable Nash is. Sure. Many critics look at his hefty $8.2 million salary with a $7.8 million cap hit and conclude that he should have more goals. What gets lost in translation is his solid two-way play. He isn’t just a player who contributes offensively. This is a guy who can be relied on by coach Alain Vigneault to give a honest effort defensively. It’s why Nash is trusted in all situations including five on five when it’s tied along with power play and penalty kill. He excels in all facets.
He’s taken his lumps. Since becoming a Blueshirt, Nash has missed 61 games. Health has been a factor in his scoring decrease. He still leads the team in shots and has to be tops in scoring chances. Nobody gets more quality ones than a player who now has 425 career goals in 1,025 games after getting the clutch winner unassisted with 3:27 left in regulation to help lead the Rangers to a key 4-2 home win over one of the West’s best in the Kings. J.T. Miller added the empty netter for window dressing which allowed the team to end a two-game winless streak (0-1-1).
There are moments where Nash gets a step on a defender and the crowd gets excited in anticipation. He’s still a fun player who can get you up out of your seat. These days, it’s harder for him to finish these plays he creates out of hard work. There was one such opportunity in the first period where he was in on Jonathan Quick only to be denied while taking a slash. Of course, there was no call. Why would there be? Nash didn’t embellish it like so many other players. He’s too big a man for that. We saw it once with the ageless Jaromir Jagr.
Nash won’t go down. He takes the hits, illegal checks, bumps and bruises. That is to be respected. If only we appreciated him more. It took a while for me to see it. I was one of those critics. After seeing him enough, I understand what kind of caliber player he is. He plays all three zones. He’s defensively responsible while still blowing past the opposition for chances like the one he had point blank but missed the net. It’s always painful to see him miss.
During a interview with Al Trautwig, you could see the frustration on his face. He observed that he was held. And well, LA got away with one. But Nash also observed how you always feel bad when you don’t bury your chances. He’s as honest as they come.
In six seasons, he’s totaled 136 goals with 105 assists for 241 points over 347 games as a Ranger. Nash has added 38 points (14-24-38) in 73 postseason games. That’s always been the sore spot. It isn’t like he didn’t try. The effort has been unquestioned. I’ve never seen such a skilled player have so much bad luck.
On a night where former Ranger Marian Gaborik was recognized for playing his 1,000th game and did his part scoring his 401st career goal and tallying his 401st assist for the Kings, Nash stole the show literally. He made a clean strip of the puck and broke in again. This time, he had the answer sending happy fans out of their seats by beating nemesis Jonathan Quick with a perfect wrist shot shortside top for his ninth of the season. A wonderful defensive play that he turned into offense with his dynamic skating. Transition hockey. The kind Vigneault likes.
It resulted in a win improving the Blueshirts to 17-12-3. With points number 36 and 37, they moved past idle Pittsburgh into fifth place in the wild and wacky Metro. With one extra regulation/overtime win, they’re in fourth over the idle Islanders. A division so insane that a few wins in a row by the Flyers got them back in it. Carolina also won tonight 5-4 in overtime over Buffalo to get to 33 points. Imagine a division so deep that eight total points separates the Blue Jackets, Devils, idle Caps each with 41 from eighth place Carolina and idle Philadelphia.
That’s why it was so imperative that the Rangers get back in the win column. They led twice on goals from Chris Kreider (No. 100) and Kevin Hayes. But Gaborik beat former pal Henrik Lundqvist with a quick snapshot through the five-hole and then later turned Kevin Shattenkirk into a traffic cone to force Lundqvist into a difficult stop on a backhand which caromed right to Torrey Mitchell for a put back.
In a game that both Quick and Lundqvist took turns making big saves, Nash gave the King the win with his terrific play in the neutral zone and perfect laser that beat Quick. Nobody deserved that goal more. I felt good for him.
The Kings would pull Quick with under two minutes remaining. But they were unable to tie it. Instead, Jimmy Vesey sacrificed by blocking a Drew Doughty point shot. He recovered the puck and sent Mats Zuccarello away with Miller on a two on one. Zuccarello got the puck to Miller, who put it into the vacated net with 54 seconds left.
When the game’s three stars were announced, Lundqvist got number three while Gaborik justifiably got number two. Nash came out for the first star to cheers from an appreciative crowd. We know more about him now. That he’s a winning hockey player who does what it takes.