Playoffs were a fleeting experience for Rick Nash during nine seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. One series in 2009 was a sweep, so the big winger got to put up just a goal and two assists in four games.
Columbus is in Nash’s past now, and the spotlight is on him as the New York Rangers hope to feature more of an offensive punch when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Thursday with Game 1 at the Washington Capitals.
“Let’s see what he can do. That’s why he went to the Rangers,” said Caps left wing Martin Erat, who played against Nash frequently while playing for the Nashville Predators. “He wanted to go to the playoffs and now it’s time for him to shine.”
At 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, Nash is a handful for opponents to contain. He had 21 goals and 21 assists in 44 regular-season games with the Rangers, similar to the numbers he put up with Columbus.
How Nash performs in the playoffs is a mystery, but not to those who have played with and against him.
“I think his style will probably translate really good,” ex-Blue Jackets teammate Jason Chimera said. “He’s one of those guys who doesn’t play overly aggressive during the course of the year, but I think when I watched him play in playoffs last time he did a lot and he was very aggressive.”
Nash would have liked more than four games of NHL playoff experience, but at least he got the initial jitters out of the way. He said he has “no other options” but to find out how he’ll respond in the postseason at 28 years old.
“I haven’t had the biggest amount of that on me. We’ll [find] out,” he told reporters at the Rangers’ practice facility Wednesday. “It’s something that all great athletes have done. It’s time to step up now.”
The Rangers are counting on Nash to step up and provide the kind of offense they’ve lacked in previous trips to the playoffs. Having Nash changes the dynamic.
“He definitely does,” New York captain Ryan Callahan said. “We’ve played each other quite a bit here in the playoffs, but at the same time, rosters turn over so much. It’s not always all the same guys all the time, so it’s a new series, it’s a new year and we have to be ready for it.”
If nothing else, Nash is a guy the Caps need to focus on.
“He’s got the long reach and he’s a big guy,” Erat said. “He can make room for himself, and he’s always dangerous. You’ve got to be able to keep an eye on him every time he’s on the ice.”
Nash is expected to begin on left wing alongside right wing Mats Zuccarello, and center Brad Richards, one of only two players in this series to have won a Cup. That’s a trio the Caps have to watch for, especially what Nash can bring.
“He likes to kind of get behind the D and go and try to get some speed,” Chimera said. “You’ve got to try to match his speed and don’t let him wind up. I think the best way to do it is play in their end and make him come the whole way. Those neutral-zone turnovers he really likes and gets going from there.”
Nash is a rare blend of power and speed, a guy who can throw his weight around and show off soft hands in the offensive zone. Along with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Nash is a major variable for New York because of his unique skill-set.
“You have a little bit of an advantage if you’re a big guy and you can move well,” Erat said. “He’s a really good player. He was so great in Columbus and he played really well in New York this year. We have to keep an eye on him and see what he can do.”