It’s been a long time coming, but it appears that Rick Nash is finally emerging as an offensive playoff threat for the New York Rangers.
For three years now, the storyline has consistently been that while Nash is an offensive machine in the regular season, he disappears and loses his ability to “finish” under the pressure of the postseason, despite doing all of the “little things” well.
But now, as the Rangers are preparing for Friday’s game seven of the Eastern Conference Final on home ice at Madison Square Garden against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rick Nash has also found his offensive jam, and the timing couldn’t be better for the Blueshirts. After years of being on the receiving end of fierce playoff criticism from fans and the media, it is finally time to back off of Rick Nash and recognize his solid play of late.
Right Things, Minimal Results
Before this series against Tampa Bay got under way, I wrote that Nash was bound to breakout against the Lightning. With three goals and seven points over the past three games, the New York power forward has done just that. But as Nash has only very recently exploded offensively, it was no swan song over the first couple of rounds against Pittsburgh and Washington.
While Nash was doing almost everything right; killing penalties and getting to the high percentage areas, he simply was not finishing, much the way things unfolded during the team’s 2014 playoff run. Aside from three points (1-2-3) in the first two games against Pittsburgh, and a huge goal in game six against the Capitals, Nash had remained generally quiet when it came to the score sheet. His shot percentage was also below five percent, despite seemingly doing everything well.
Unfortunately, doing everything well aside from putting up points playoff run after playoff run for someone getting paid just under eight million dollars a year simply isn’t enough. It garnered sharp criticism each and every spring, including the first part of this one.
But now, Nash is continuing to do all the right things, and the numbers have at long last started to follow suit.
Right Things Breeding Results
So what has changed in Rick Nash’s game now that he’s starting to produce points? Aside from a little better puck luck, not a whole lot if you ask me.
In game four against Tampa, a game which the Rangers emerged victorious by a 5-1 final, Nash lit the lamp twice. Not only that, number 61’s first goal of the evening was just vintage Nash; a power move to the front of the net with a pretty backhand finish, with an emphasis on the finish. It looked like the Rick Nash of old.
Nash went on to add his second goal later in the game, a goal which was the result of him getting to the front of the net and finding a rebound to put home. Again, doing the right things and getting rewarded; nothing new, just better luck.
Then on Tuesday, with his team facing elimination in game six, Nash turned in what was arguably the best playoff game of his career, let alone this postseason. While Nash’s four point night may have been slightly overshadowed by Brassard’s five points and a hat trick (and a whopping 10 shots on goal!), Nash’s play in that game was certainly deserving of recognition, as his visible play and effort alone made him look like a man on a mission.
His first assist on the evening was a result of him getting the play started by cutting down the wing and simply sending the puck in on net. Brassard was there to pick up the rebound as he then sent the puck back to Yandle at the point, who beat a screened Bishop with a wrist shot from the blue line.
Simply enough, right? Those darn little things.
His second assist occurred much the same way, as Nash again cut down the wing on a two-on-one with JT Miller. Again, the big man sent the puck on net which generated another rebound, which eventually led to Miller finishing the play to put the Rangers up 3-1 at the time. It was a huge goal at that point in the contest, and Nash was again rewarded with an assist.
Nash’s third helper of the game was the result of a tremendous effort on his part, as he chased down Andrej Sustr to force a turnover. He then gave a nice drop pass to JT Miller, who then sent a terrific slap pass over to Brassard who finished the play to put the Blueshirts up by four.
There’s no question that Miller’s flashy pass and Brassard’s second goal of the game garnered most of the praise on the tally, but Nash’s effort to force the turnover in the first place was equally impressive. That was the play of a man who is and has been working his tail off, helping to generate offense for a team desperately in need.
That cannot go unnoticed.
Nash’s night was capped off by the Rangers’ sixth goal of the night when he put home a power play rebound in front of relief netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. The goal for Nash was his fifth of the postseason, a new career high.
Seriously Though, Back Off
In 18 playoff games played this spring, Rick Nash has compiled five goals and nine assists for 14 points. All three of those – goals, assists, and points – are career highs for the New York forward. To the blind eye, Nash has been doing all the right things, and a shot chart courtesy of sporting charts has continued to confirm that throughout the playoffs.
Now, though, a little luck has been on the side of Nash, and the numbers are starting to better reflect his play. While last spring Nash’s shot percentage was a lowly 3.66 percent, his play recently – by and large quite similar to last spring – has started to tilt more in his favor. Nash is still going to the high percentage areas, only now the puck is starting to go in a little more often, as his shot percentage has now risen from a little over four percent, up to its current 7.35 percent. Still fairly low, but certainly better than it had been.
The effort is and has been there, but now the production is starting to come. That is a positive for Nash himself as that should only breed further confidence and playoff success, but it’s even better for the Rangers squad as a whole. So yes, it’s finally time to stop criticizing Nash for his “lowly playoff performances,” and appreciate all he’s doing well, because there really is plenty of it.
Interesting stat Rick Nash is now 2nd leading scorer in the playoffs for the Rangers trailing only Brassard. Is he heating up at right time?
— James Evangelist (@Vange9435) May 28, 2015
The Rangers are going to need all the strong play that they can get come Friday’s game seven of the Eastern Conference Final at MSG, as the winner of the 8 p.m. contest will punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.