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Rangers like Nash's play but still seek some goals

by Dan Rosen

LOS ANGELES -- The Rick Nash story in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs has reached the point where expectations for the New York Rangers forward have changed.

Once considered an elite goal-scorer and the player who had to ignite the Rangers' offense, Nash is being held to a different standard in the playoffs, at least based on public comments made by his teammates and coach Alain Vigneault.

Now Nash is supposed to be an all-around, 200-foot player who doesn't need to score to be effective.

It's not clear if this change is a good thing or a bad thing for the Rangers, who trail 1-0 heading into Game 2 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

What is clear is that, for now, the Rangers seem content with how Nash is playing, even though he has three goals and 10 points in 21 playoff games after scoring 26 goals in 65 regular-season games.

"Pucks aren't always going to go in for you. No one scores every game," said left wing Chris Kreider, who plays on the line with Nash and center Derek Stepan. "With that being said, you can have a really good game and not have a goal, an assist or a shot on goal. You can play really well and detail-oriented and nothing will show up on the stat sheet. You can also play a great game and have three goals and two assists. It doesn't matter at this level. When you're a professional, a professional like Rick, when you've been around and had so much success, it's about winning games. It's all detail-oriented stuff, not point production."

That makes sense -- especially the part about winning, which Nash emphasizes.

"The way I look at it, it's so cliché but it's the truth, you want to help the team any way you can to win games," Nash said. "Am I supposed to score goals? Yeah, but we need everyone to score goals to win games, myself included. When you're not scoring you've got to help out other ways: penalty kill, defensively. It's just the way it works when you're on championship teams."

The Rangers are the Eastern Conference champions in part because Nash has been effective in other areas throughout the playoffs. He's been one of their most important penalty-killers and has been playing against the opposition's top forwards and shutting them down. He isn't making costly errors and has generated some scoring chances.

"Rick has been playing some real good hockey," Vigneault said. "He's competing. He's using his size (6-foot-4, 213 pounds). He's done some great defensive plays for us. He's been a big part of why we are where we are and why we have a chance to compete for the Cup."

Nash is playing the same role for the Rangers that he effectively played for Canada at the past two Winter Olympics. He was in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014 not as a goal-scorer but as a checker who could help Canada get the puck back and put it in the net. Canada was not relying on Nash to score goals; it had enough players who could do that.

Nash helped Canada win the gold medal twice and scored two goals in 13 games.

"He's a guy that adapts to what's needed," said forward Derek Dorsett, whose time with Nash dates to their days together with the Columbus Blue Jackets. "You have seen that with Team Canada, when he was put in those defensive roles."

New York doesn't have Canada's offensive depth, so Nash can't be only a checker now. He is the Rangers' highest-paid player this season and has the second-most career goals (behind forward Martin St. Louis; 370-336).

"I've got to finish," Nash said.

First, he's got to get started. Nash said that means he needs to get on the inside when he's in the offensive zone, but that won't happen unless or until he establishes a forecheck with Kreider and Stepan.

"To get a forecheck you have to get pucks deep," Nash said. "We weren't able to get pucks deep and get the pucks out of our end [in Game 1]. We spent the second half of the game defending. For me and Kreider's game, we have to be in there cycling."

Like most power forwards, Nash gets on the inside of the opposition and leans on them to create scoring chances when he is involved in a cycle game with his linemates.

"It's not just Rick alone," Stepan said. "We were talking about it [Friday], me and [Kreider], we have to step up our game to help him out too."

At some point here, the onus has to fall on Nash. That's the burden of being the star, especially in a short playoff series when one goal could be the difference.

The Rangers are trying to break the fall for Nash by talking about the other things he is doing well. Nobody is mentioning what Nash referred to as the "elephant in the room" earlier in the postseason.

All three of his goals came in the Eastern Conference Final; one was the seventh in a 7-2 win and another was a sharp-angled shot from the left corner that went in off Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges.

"At this point it's more about the wins," Nash said. "You're not worried about your individual statistics. You're worried about doing whatever you can to help the team win games."

One of those ways should be scoring goals, no matter what the new expectations are.

"We know he's playing, he's working through it, and he'll break out," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It might only be one goal, but that could be the difference. If there is any guy that's going to score it it's going to be him because of his ability, his clutch play over the years."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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