GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers have won consecutive seven-game series on their way to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, which starts against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday with Game 1 at Bell Centre (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
To get this far they've received clutch scoring from a variety of sources, sound defensive play and world-class goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist.
One thing they have not received is a single goal from forward Rick Nash, who led the Rangers during the regular season with 26 goals. It's a frustrating stretch for a player long considered among the NHL's elite scorers, but it has been made bearable by team success and Nash's ability to find other ways to contribute.
"The chances are coming here and there, the defensive game has been solid," Nash said after New York's practice Friday. "I've been focusing on that a bit, but I need to start scoring."
To his credit, Nash has played a strong two-way game, maintained consistent puck possession and become a greater part of New York's penalty kill. His goose egg through 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games isn't from a lack of opportunities. Entering play Friday, Nash led the League with 52 shots on goal during the postseason.
That number hasn't gone unnoticed. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has tracked meticulously his players' scoring chances all season, and with the help of his staff made an interesting discovery while compiling them.
"We analyze the scoring chances for and against, and he [Nash] is our top player," Vigneault said. "For some reason he's in a little bit of a funk right now as far as finding ways to put the puck in the net, but the looks are there. We all believe, and I hope he believes the same thing, that as soon as one goes in more are going to go in."
Nash has put on a brave face through the longest scoring drought of his career. Making his first appearance in a conference final certainly has helped him through a difficult period that reached a low point during Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when he was booed by Rangers fans at Madison Square Garden.
By rounding out his overall game, Nash has helped the Rangers make it this far. And he remains confident that goals will come. More than anything, he wants to make sure the Rangers keep winning.
"I'm trying every night to score goals and put the puck in the net, but it's a bigger picture than me struggling," Nash said. "This is about a team trying to win a championship. There's a bunch of pieces that go into that. If I can help defensively right now, I'm going to do everything I can just to win games."
Nash has no immediate plans to transform into a shutdown defensive forward; he was brought to New York to score goals. But the Rangers are winning and Nash remains in the thick of the longest playoff run of his career. It's a unique quandary Nash hopes he can resolve with some goals against Montreal.
"Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. When you're in a slump you have to work your way out of it," Nash said. "The team picture is so much bigger than my individual struggle. We're here to win games, not to worry about me scoring. If me scoring can help that, then obviously it's an issue. But I've definitely been frustrated."
It wasn't necessarily by design, but the scoring sensation has found a new way to impress his teammates. Ask around the dressing room and you'll find a group that is plenty impressed by a star player who has handled a scoring slump at the worst time and still finds a way to smile and remain confident. In some ways Nash's ability to weather a storm of adversity has made as much of an imprint among his teammates as any of his highlight-reel goals.
"He's always a positive guy and he's a great guy to have around," forward Carl Hagelin said. "That's always something positive when a player who is used to doing something shows he can do something else. At the same time he hopes to help the team offensively this series. I have a good feeling."
There may not be a better time to snap out of that slump, and Nash is the first person to admit it's time for him to get a goal.
"Overdue. I would definitely say overdue," he said with a smile.
Until the pucks start going in for him, Nash plans to remain confident and find positives in his play and the play of a team that is four wins from the Stanley Cup Final.
"I thought our [penalty kill] has been great," he said. "I think defensively as a team we've been good. There's definitely been some positives out of the first two [series]. And we won both series, that's positive."
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