Time for Rick Nash to put the haters to bed for good

Nash will look to start fast against Pittsburgh (Getty)

Nash will look to start fast against Pittsburgh (Getty)

The 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight for the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. This also represents an opportunity for Rick Nash to slay all his playoff demons by victimizing a decimated and porous Pittsburgh Penguins defense.

Last season, Rick Nash was snake bit. The cherry on top came in OT of game 5 with a wide open net and Nash shooting a puck right down the heart of it. Out of nowhere, Slava Voynov flashed his stick out and struck the puck on its thin shaft. The shot sailed high and the Rangers Cup dream would end soon after.

This season, well it’s a whole new game for Nash as he’s set a career high mark for goals with 42. However, he’s always been able to score in the regular season, his 4 playoff goals is a whole other matter and a point of contention for all his detractors.

Rick Nash told reporters this week that he has to “pick up his play in the playoffs.” This isn’t something new as he’s said this before. What Nash needs to do is continue to shoot pucks from the high scoring areas of the ice as he’s done all season.

Here is a heat map from SportingCharts.com showing the key difference between where Rick Nash was generating offense from last year (left) and this year (right). See the concentration of shots and points (dots) near the goal.

Rick  Nash heat and point chart 2013/14 v 2014/15

Rick Nash heat and point chart 2013/14 v 2014/15

This is something he should be able to sustain against a Penguins defense missing its top three defensemen in Kris Letang, Olli Maata and Christian Ehrhoff. MSG Analyst, Stephen Valiquette even pointed out that Marc Andre Fleury seems to have more difficulty moving from his left to right, which plays into Rick Nash’s power move strength.

How many times has we seen #61 come in on a breakaway and make that deke from his right to his left to slip it past a goalies pad? Or seen him put a cross ice feed over a goalie’s blocker? Countless times over his 3 seasons in NY.

Rick Nash (NYR)

Rick Nash (NYR)

This first round matchup against a defensively weak opponent in Pittsburgh could be just what the doctor ordered for Nash to cleanse himself of the playoff demons. Even so, for Nash goals are nice but he only cares about one thing.

Sitting in front of the media during All-Star weekend, Rick Nash made one thing perfectly clear – he wants the Cup.

“I want the (Stanley Cup) that we were close to last year. As you get older in your career you want to help the team win as much, but the personal goals don’t matter nearly as much as the team goals.”

Rick Nash still feels the sting of last year’s loss to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final but he learned from it. “It makes you realize how many things have to go right to go that far and to win it,” Nash said. “It sits on you  pretty hard, and it’s a tough thing to forget, but it keeps that fire ignited in your belly to get back there again.”

This time, Nash knows that he needs to score more in the playoffs, his four goals won’t cut it. The difference now is Rick Nash appears 100% healthy. If he can get it going early against the Penguins, he and the Rangers could prove unstoppable.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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