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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nash finds niche with Blueshirts

Formerly The Man, he's now just one of the guys on Broadway

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LOS ANGELES -- It's a funny bit of convergence here at this Stanley Cup final. Marian Gaborik is here, leading the scoring charge for the scoring-challenged Kings, after nearly four full seasons of trying to lead the Rangers this far.

Rick Nash is here, too, of course. Nash was Glen Sather's next choice for the role of scoring star, the guy who was going to power the Rangers to glory. Nash came in before the 2012-13 season; he and Gaborik had 35 games together before Sather shipped Gaborik to Columbus, the same team from whom he got Nash months before.

And Nash has indeed helped the Rangers get to the final, just not in the way you'd think.

Nash was The Man in Columbus for a decade. With the Rangers, he's still paid like he's The Man, but he plays like one of the guys. Goals are what he's paid $7.8 million per to provide, but his big moments in this post-season run have been big hits, a diving play to block Mark Streit's shot in Game 7 against the Flyers and one of the forwards on a penalty-killing unit that has been superb.

'We don't really care about personal statistics. If that's scoring a goal, great. If that's blocking a shot or killing a penalty, you do that, too'

-- Rick Nash

"I think I always have pressure on myself to produce, but at the end of the day, we want to win games," Nash said Tuesday.

"We don't really care about personal statistics. If that's scoring a goal, great. If that's blocking a shot or killing a penalty, you do that, too."

Back to that funny convergence: Gaborik scored 42 and 41 goals in two of his three full Rangers seasons. He scored one of the more memorable goals in recent Rangers playoff history with his triple-overtime winner to defeat the Caps in Game 3 of the 2012 second round -- with a bum shoulder, no less.

But Gaborik didn't fit with the John Tortorella Rangers, somehow. He didn't grind enough for some. He didn't dive to block shots. He didn't throw his weight around.

What he did was score goals, which is what he's doing now for a team that has more than enough of the hitters and the diving shot-blockers, but not enough of Gaborik's nose for the net.

Nash scored plenty in Columbus, leading the Blue Jackets in scoring six of his nine seasons there, but there were only four measly playoff games in all that time. He wanted out, to New York, where he thought days like Tuesday, with a podium and a microphone and the attention of the hockey world, would be forthcoming.

"I wanted an opportunity to win a championship," Nash said. "I consider myself lucky to have the trade."

The Rangers haven't quite gotten what they thought they were getting from Nash, but in some ways, they've gotten just what they needed -- what Gaborik could not provide.

Even with Alain Vigneault's more open system, Nash's ability to play an all-around game benefits a Rangers team with an all-for-one style built into its DNA.

"He's had that Team Canada experience where he won a couple gold medals in a different role than he's used to," said Derek Dorsett, a teammate in Columbus and New York. "I think that's helped him a lot."

Another Blue Jackets and Rangers teammate, Anton Stralman, noted of Nash: "He's not a dangler or anything. The way he plays, using his body, he can be real effective without the puck as much as he is with it."

The Rangers would gladly take Nash scoring goals, lots of them, starting tonight. Gaborik already has a dozen in 21 games this post-season; Nash has five in 36 career playoff games.

But as long as Nash continues to give the Rangers what he's given so far this spring, their chances are improved. Nash can certainly be The Man. One of the guys has worked pretty well so far.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2014 D3

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