There was Rick Nash on ice Friday at Rangers practice, taking part in all of the drills and skating on a line with newcomer Eric Staal. And after practice there was Nash wearing a smile while dripping sweat stating that he feels he is ready to return to the team's lineup this weekend.
So after many stops and starts, and 20 games on the sidelines, since suffering a bad bone bruise in his leg on January 22 in Carolina, Nash is finally in a good spot and in position for game action with the Blueshirts.
"I hope so," said an upbeat Nash when asked if he felt he will play Saturday in Detroit against the Red Wings. "It's the same process, see how it feels tonight then talk with the doctors, talk to (head athletic trainer Jim Ramsay), then go from there. But everything's great. Everything is positive."
Head coach Alain Vigneault was also clearly boosted by the sight of Nash taking part in a full contact practice, and he, too, sounded positive about big No. 61 returning to the Rangers lineup.
"Nasher, we'll see how he responds since today was his first practice with the team," explained Vigneault. "If he responds well to today's practice I would say there's a very good chance that he would be in the lineup tomorrow."
That news was received in an extremely good way by Nash's teammates, who are thrilled that his near two-month layoff is just about over.
"It's exciting to see Nasher back," stated Henrik Lundqvist, who, himself, is returning from injury and will play Saturday against the Red Wings. "He's been working really hard the last few weeks to be ready; and I think everybody in this room is just really happy that he's finally back. I'm happy for him, and for the team, too, to get him back now."
Added alternate captain Marc Staal, "It's big for us. I think he's more excited than anyone, and we're happy to see him out there with us. It's felt like forever, and probably felt even longer for him, so I'm excited he's getting close."
Nash skated on left wing on a line centered by Eric Staal, with Viktor Stalberg on the right side during practice Friday. If that line sticks, it gives the Rangers three very big, very strong forwards who are all willing to crash the crease and work the corners.
"I find me and Eric to be pretty similar players, and I remember playing with him (as teenagers) way back in the day, so it's fun whenever you get a chance to play with a guy like him," explained Nash. "I think with Stalberg, he brings so much speed, one of the best skaters in the league, and hopefully that opens things up once we get playing."
Nash is listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, while Staal is also 6-foot-4, and Stalberg stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 210 pounds. That line provides "matchup problems" for the opposition, according to Vigneault, as does the fact that the Rangers could have their top three lines centered by Staal, Derek Stepan, and Derick Brassard (Brassard missed practice Friday due to the flu).
"We've got to be one of the deepest teams at center in the league," stated Nash. "We have some great centermen here."
Staal, who has played exceptionally well and has two points (1-1-2) so far in five games as a Ranger since being acquired from the Hurricanes, is excited about the prospect of playing with Nash on a line which would feature two career 300-goal scorers (Nash-390, Staal-323).
"I've played against big, strong guys and they're hard to play against," noted Staal. "So we've got be like that, hard to play against every shift, hang on to the puck in the offensive zone, and hopefully cash in when the opportunity arises. Certainly we're happy to have (Nash) back in our lineup."
When the Rangers practiced the power play on Friday Nash took the ill Brassard's spot on the top unit, while Staal remained on the second unit. If Brassard is able to play on Saturday it is not known how Vigneault will shuffle the deck.