When Derek Stepan was driven into the boards late in the third period of Thursday's 4-1 season-opening loss in Phoenix, there are any number of Rangers who one could envision coming to his defense and seeking retribution with Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal.
But perhaps maybe not Rick Nash.
Yet indeed it was Nash, more known for punishing opponents with goals and assists then with his fists, who challenged Hanzal and dropped the gloves with the 6-foot-6, 235 pound winger. It may not have been a memorable fight in terms of pugilistic skill, but clearly Nash made an important impression on his teammates.
"It was great," offered defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "That's the kind of bonding we've built here as a group. You want to have trust in your linemates and teammates, and have guys that are willing to battle no matter what the situation calls for. Ideally I think we'd prefer to see Nasher stay out of those, but he's a big tough guy himself and he's doing the right thing there helping Step out."
Team captain Ryan Callahan was sitting in the press box Thursday, unable to play still following off-season shoulder surgery, but he sensed how the team reacted to Nash's fight. And he was proud of how the All Star forward put his teammate before himself by fighting Hanzal.
"It shows how close a group we are," explained Callahan following Friday's practice. "You see a guy like that who's more of our points guy, or scorer, drop the gloves it shows the rest of the team he's a part of this. It doesn't matter who you are, you stick up for your teammates. Everybody can rally around something like that."
Of course no Ranger would trade seeing Nash get hurt in a fight just so he could stand up for a teammate. No one wants to see a seven-time 30-goal scorer get away from doing what he does best, or get hurt doing the down and dirty work of fighting.
"You don't necessarily like to see a guy like that drop the gloves, you're holding your breath because you don't want anything to happen to him," said Callahan. "But it shows his character and what's he's all about."
As the season progresses, expect more pretty passes like the one Nash made on Marc Staal's goal Thursday and many more clutch goals than fights. But know as well that either way, Rick Nash has the respect of his Blueshirt brothers.