Rick Nash had accrued a difficult reputation during his time with the New York Rangers during his prime.
As the Blueshirts’ premier regular-season goal scorer, Nash at times was a no-show in the postseason.
In his first three years with the team from 2012-2015, he averaged just fewer than 30 goals per season as the bona fide first-line left winger. That was an average of 0.47 goals per game during that span.
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The problem was that he was unable to carry over that success into the postseason. In a combined 56 playoff games during that stretch, Nash scored just nine goals despite leading all postseason shooters in two of those years.
That’s an average of just 0.16 goals per game, far off his regular-season average at the time.
Each of the last two years has seen Nash’s role change within the Rangers’ ranks. He had just 15 goals in 60 games last year and added two more in five games during New York’s first-round postseason exit to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He managed to come back this season with 23 goals as more of a second-line option, which took some offensive pressure off his shoulders.
But this postseason has been different. In fact, Nash has been one of the Rangers’ best offensive options during the first four games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens.
During Game 4 on Tuesday night, his second goal of the series proved to be the game-winner after he slotted a backhanded effort through Canadiens goalie Carey Price early in the second period to put New York up 2-1.
“I kind of saw a hole to the net right way,” Nash said of his uncontested presence in front. “I don’t know if I beat the [defenseman] off the wall, but he kind of cheated out. Not sure, but right away I saw it … Once I took it to my backhand I saw the five-hole kind of open up.”
The earth beneath Madison Square Garden shook the moment Nash slotted his shot beneath Price.
“It was great,” he would later admit. “I was pretty pumped up.”
Nash had already beaten Price in the first period. His bull rush to the net presented a prime scoring chance, but he made contact with the Canadiens goalie and knocked him off his skates, resulting in a penalty that canceled out the puck trickling behind the goal line.
He managed to keep his head despite the years of previous struggles, the pressure from the New York market and with the frustration of having a go-ahead goal disallowed while trailing in a playoff series.
“It’s a fine line. You got to have kind of controlled emotions,” Nash said. “It was a tight game and when there are penalties we need our special teams to step up.”
New York’s penalty kill did just that, forcing Montreal to go 0-for-3 on the man advantage during Game 4.
The win snapped a six-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden during the playoffs as Nash labeled his team’s efforts as “our best home game for sure.”
With the series shifting back to Montreal’s Bell Centre for Game 5, the Rangers have a chance to take control of this series. If they are able to pull out another road victory on Thursday like they did in Game 1, the Rangers could return to Madison Square Garden for Game 6 with a chance to advance.
“We got to bring the momentum that we gained from [Game 4] into the next game,” Nash said. “We have to play the same way and take from the good things and learn from our mistakes.”