WASHINGTON – Rick Nash had a distinct sense of relief come over him as the New York Rangers wrapped up the Eastern Conference quarterfinal with a 5-0 triumph over the Washington Capitals on Monday night.
Nash’s offensive struggles (two assists in seven games) were well-documented, but they were of little concern in the moments after the dressing room opened.
All Nash was worried about was moving onto the second round for the first time in his NHL career.
“It’s huge. I didn’t think it would take 10 years but it did. That’s the reality of it. You move on and have some fun with it,” said Nash, whose Columbus Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 2007 during his only other trip to the playoffs. “It’s what I wanted in my career, to have a chance to play in the playoffs and playing games that would mean a lot. I’m excited.”
Nash had trouble putting into words the emotions that were going through him after being on the winning end of a series.
“I don’t know. It’s a learning experience for me. It’s my first time here,” said Nash, who felt the Rangers got better and more disciplined after the 1-0 OT loss in Game 2. “We didn’t want to lose and end our season. We played desperate and it showed. I think it’s enjoy a bit of it tonight for a few hours and then back to work tomorrow and worry about the next job at hand. ”
I asked Nash if he felt that being able to contribute in other ways to a series victory might help him get going offensively during the second round.
“I think the offence will come. I was getting a few chances tonight, I had a few chances last night. My main goal is trying to help the team. It’s unfortunate I can’t do it right now by bringing the offence. I’m just try to make good defensive plays, try to set guys up and bring some momentum swings,” said Nash, who led the Rangers with 22 shots on goal in the series and had a glorious chance on a breakaway in Game 2 that beat Braden Holtby but couldn’t sneak past the post.
Say whatever you want about the lack of production for Nash, but the fact remains that whenever he touches the puck, he’s receiving attention from the opposition and he still created some very dangerous chances. I don’t see the Rangers being able to bounce the Boston Bruins without Nash picking it up on the offensive end. I also don’t see him being stuck on zero goals for much longer.
Speaking of the Rangers, I can now say that I’ve witnessed the best two playoff series in Derick Brassard’s career when I was covering the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, the slick centre was a rookie with the Syracuse Crunch and put up 13 points in 13 Calder Cup playoff games in 2008. Five of them came in a six-game series against the Moose, where his offensive instincts were definitely noticeable.
With the benefit of experience and a change of scenery, Brassard (the sixth overall pick in 2006) was the most productive player in the series. By adding two helpers in the clincher, Brassard finished with two goals and nine points in seven games (technically in five games as he had nothing to show for his efforts during the first two road games at Verizon Center).
Another impressive part of the Rangers’ collective game was that 11 players combined to score 16 goals in the first round and no one had more than two (Carl Hagelin, Brassard, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan (both of his goals were game-winners) and fourth-liner Arron Asham all scored twice).