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Rangers' Nash ready to forget painful playoff past

by Dan Rosen /

NEW YORK -- Three goals in 25 games and a shot off a stick shaft in overtime of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. That was New York Rangers forward Rick Nash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. That's what he can't hide from now, with a new postseason set to begin.

"I've had thousands of people be on top of me and it is what it is," Nash said. "At the end of the day you just gotta try to be better next time."

Next time is here for Nash, who realizes that scoring a career-high 42 goals this season and being a dominant player, a potential Hart Trophy finalist, won't mean much if he doesn't score to help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Nash has four goals in 37 playoff games with the Rangers, who won the President's Trophy this season and are considered a favorite to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994, the last time they won the Presidents' Trophy.

"You mention last year during the playoffs, even though he might not have been on the scoresheet as far as goals he was doing a lot of the right things, a lot of the things that needed to happen so that we'd get a chance to win," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Well, this season he came in great shape, great attitude, carried it over and he's playing well at both ends of the rink. That's what we want from all of our players."

That's what Nash expects from himself, but he still wonders why he didn't score more in the playoffs last season because he doesn't feel like he was playing differently than he normally does.

He was happy with his defensive game and felt he was checking well to create his chances, which is a staple of Nash's game. He was a key player on the Rangers' penalty kill, which was 85.4 percent, the best of any team that made it out of the first round.

Nash also led the Rangers with 83 shots on goal, but his shooting percentage was a dismal 3.6 percent. Vigneault constantly referred to Nash as being the Rangers' player getting the best chances even though he wasn't scoring.

Maybe Nash was guilty of not getting to the net the way he did regularly this season, but even without him constantly attacking and getting inside the defense Nash figured he'd get lucky somewhere along the line.

"The chances were there, the momentum swings," Nash said. "I think about some of the games and I was playing pretty good hockey, but it's a bounce here and a bounce there that could have changed everything."

Case in point was his shot in the second overtime of Game 5 against the Kings; the net was open for Nash's one-timer from the right circle, but Slava Voynov reached out his stick blocked the shot at 9:16, sending the puck sailing inches over the crossbar.

Had Nash's shot gone he would have returned to New York an overtime hero and the Rangers would have still been alive with Game 6 set for Madison Square Garden. Instead, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez scored the Cup-clinching winner less than six minutes later.

"That's the game, though," Nash said. "That's how it goes. That's why you have to learn fast. When things are going right everyone is your friend, everyone is talking to you and everyone is texting you, but where are the guys [in the media] asking me questions when things are going good? As soon as things start going wrong everyone is in your stall. You have to learn that at a young age because it can't affect you."

Nash tried to not let it affect him in the playoffs last season. When he was asked about not scoring, Nash referred to his lack of production as the elephant in the room, but he always talked about what he was doing to help the Rangers win.

Nash has taken great pride in his defensive game since Ken Hitchcock helped make him a proverbial 200-foot player when they were together with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He wants to be considered a player who is worthy of being in consideration for the Selke Trophy.

"Everyone loves the goals, goals are sexy and that's what everyone wants to see, but the people that really understand the game understand there are more aspects than just scoring," Nash said. "Don't get me wrong, I know that's my job, that's what I'm here for, to score goals, but there's a lot of different aspects that I try to bring to my game. Scoring goals and being a minus player, that doesn't do anything for me."

Nash was a career-best plus-29 this season. He was a minus-35 in 2003-04, the only other season he topped 40 goals (41).

"At the end of the day I know what I'm here to do, and it's to create offense and score goals, but I think my game is more than just scoring," Nash said. "I've been playing penalty kill all year, last minute of games, defensive situations. I'm more happy about being a complete player. When I was 19 scoring 41 goals I was still a minus-35. It's nice being plus-29. That's the stat that impresses me the most."

But that's not the stat by which he will be judged this spring. Nash can be an effective player for the Rangers all over the ice, but if he doesn't score he knows it won't be enough.

The pressure is on.

"I feel pressure to score every time I go out onto the ice, but of course there is pressure for me to perform now," Nash said. "I'm a guy that's paid high and that's supposed to score goals when it counts. That's what I have to do."


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