Rick Nash did not shrink in these playoffs

Rick Nash raised his game this post-season. It's time he was recognized for it.

By Forever Blueshirts
Nash (Getty)

Rick Nash vs Lightning (Getty)

Rick Nash vs Lightning (Getty)

Rick Nash finished this post-season as the Rangers 2nd leading scorer. He did so on the strength of 5 goals and 14 points. Nash also proved that when the going got tough, he got going.

During the playoffs NBCSN analyst, Keith Jones said that Nash “shrinks” in the playoffs. He was implying that as the games became tougher, Nash would wilt away and was nowhere to be found.

Nothing could be further from the truth as Nash scored half his post season points when the Rangers needed him most. With the Blueshirts down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Final, he scored 2 goals and 3 points to even the series at 2 games apiece. Then with the Rangers facing elimination, he had his most dominant playoff game of his career. Nash notched a goal and 4 points to keep the Rangers alive. These are not the things a player who shies from tough situations does.

Sometimes we forget that Nash was a former NHL captain and has had success at many levels. We were reminded of this when the Rangers were down against the Lightning. Nash arranged a screening of the movie, Entourage along with a team dinner to rally the boys on the road. It’s little things like this that shows leadership skills off the ice as well as on.

Derick Brassard led the Rangers this post season in scoring with 9 goals and 16 points. He was clutch as he scored in 11 of the Rangers 19 contests. Nash registered a point in 8 of them, and Derek Stepan who finished 3rd in playoff scoring with 12 points, tallied a point in 9 games.

Nash enjoys first multi-goal game of playoff career (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Nash enjoys first multi-goal game of playoff career (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

All three were unable to score in Game 7 against Tampa leading to the Rangers falling short of their goal. Yet one player continues to get the bulk of the blame. Nash is always criticized when things go bad, not just because of his production but based primarily on how much money he makes. I wonder if Stepan will be bashed as hard and as often after he signs his new deal worth $6M plus a year?

Rick Nash competed in these playoffs and faced team’s top defenses throughout. He was able to produce after losing his fellow top line winger, Mats Zuccarello to a brain injury. He and Derick Brassard had to play with an array of wingers for the remainder of the post-season. Martin St. Louis, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller all were shuffled on and off that line. Yet, Nash and Brassard found ways to generate offense almost every night while trying to find chemistry with a new linemate.

Nash isn’t a one trick pony either. He played an average of 18:30 a game and saw time on the PK and PP. Not many of the stars remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs can say that. Still, most pundits and fans point their finger at him. Rick Nash makes $7.8M a year and this is all they can see in defeat.

Over in Chicago, Patrick Kane (20 points) and Jonathan Toews (18 points) are producing. However, they each are making over $2M each than Nash and are considered NHL superstars with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. They also have the support of star players like Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. When Marty St. Louis went ice cold and Mats Zuccarello went down, a lot more pressure was put squarely on Nash’s shoulders.

Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay didn’t register a goal until the 9th game of the playoffs. He stormed back and has scored 17 points in the playoffs, playing in 20 games. Last I checked, Stamkos was heading for a monster contract by 2016. Still, the leading scorer of the post season is Tyler Johnson with 21 points. His cap hit is 3.33M, so why aren’t we getting on these other stars for not getting it done? The arguments against Nash are just getting old and after this playoff season, silly.

Rick Nash deserves some praise and credit for what he did this year. His head coach, Alain Vigneault gave his beleaguered star an endorsement on breakup day.

[su_quote cite=”Andrew Gross” url=”http://www.northjersey.com/sports/hockey/nash-improved-but-rangers-need-more-1.1346950″]”At the end of the day, and I had that talk with him today, every playoff, he’s improved. He was an older player when he got to New York with only four games [playoff] experience. He’s getting better. “He understands his contribution is real important,” Vigneault added. “I think he’s only going to improve.”[/su_quote]

Even after seeing what he did and hearing his coach rain praise on him, there are talks of trading him. Players like Nash who is in his prime (he turns 31 this month), don’t grow on trees. So who are you getting for him? Phil Kessel? Maybe that’s possible, but what assurances do you have that he will produce here in NY? Yes, he has 21 points in 22 playoff games but has only been out of the 1st round once. Why disrupt the chemistry that’s been built here over 3 years for the unknown? It doesn’t make sense.

What is known is just how much Nash cares.

[su_quote cite=”Andrew Gross” url=”http://www.northjersey.com/sports/hockey/nash-improved-but-rangers-need-more-1.1346950″]”It’s been tough to sleep the last couple of nights, just thinking about the players we had, it’s one of the best teams I’ve played on,” Nash said. “It’s been a really frustrating two days to kind of digest this feeling. “As you get older in your career and older in age, you think about these opportunities,” Nash added. “They’re not going to come up too much and this was one of our best chances.”[/su_quote]

So here we are, another season without a Stanley Cup. However, when I sit back and assess what I saw, I can lay no blame at Rick Nash’s feet. After hearing about how damaged the Rangers were from top to bottom, it’s hard to blame anyone.

All I can say is this, Rick Nash has earned my respect. He should’ve earned yours as well.

Nash accepts the Broadway Hat (MSG/NHL)

Nash accepts the Broadway Hat (MSG/NHL)