NEW YORK — Early in the season, Rick Nash was left frustrated by pucks that refused to go into the net.
He – and his team – are no longer frustrated.
Nash scored two third period goals – the game-winner, and the insurance tally – as the Rangers (11-8-2) won their third straight game, 4-2 over the Flyers (11-12-1).
Both were of the highlight-variety. Just under three minutes into the third, Nash skated into the zone on a two-on-one with J.T. Miller and wristed the puck past the blocker of Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who barely moved a muscle as the puck whizzed by.
Nine minutes later, Derek Stepan fed Nash into the offensive zone. Nash fended off a hook from Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, deked the length of the crease, and backhanded the puck into the net.
All seven of Nash’s goals this season have been scored in the third period. He’s scored in his last three games, and has a seven-game point streak (five goals, six assists).
“My theory is to give him the puck and let him do his thing,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who assisted on Nash’s first goal. “I just chipped the puck up the wall and he goes down and scores. It’s an easy game that way. He’s such a dynamic player and he’s a game-breaker.”
“He’s so dangerous,” marveled Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. “Any time he’s on the ice he has an opportunity to score or make a play and change the momentum of the game. It’s good to have him on your side.”
The most dangerous part of Rick Nash’s game is, it appears he’s getting even more confident as the games go on. Ever since returning from injury, Nash has been even more dynamic than when he left with that undisclosed injury and missed four games. The Rangers are 11-5-1 with Nash in the lineup, and 10-2-1 in their last 13 games with Nash.
“I just started smiling after he scored the second goal,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves). “It just feels so good to have a player like that on the team that can be the difference every night. We have a lot of guys that can step up, but he just brings it to another level.”
“He’s been pretty important for us since he’s come back. He’s really ignited us,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “When you make a deal like that, you add to your top players, and you add to your skill level. It’s just a really good deal for us. We lose some good players – we lose the middle of our lineup. We’re beginning to find the middle of our lineup.”
After scoring only three goals in his first 14 games, Nash now has four tallies in his last three contests – all since returning to the lineup. And the fans are starting to realize what’s going on.
“That’s my job, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Nash said, when asked if he notices the murmur that goes up from the crowd whenever he touches the puck. “These fans are great. It’s fun for me to play in front of a sold-out building that truly loves the Rangers. It’s fun for our whole team to play for these fans.”
“He’s calling for that puck all game,” said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “You can see he’s got confidence, and you can see he’s got confidence in his linemates to make plays, pass, give it up, and get it back. He’s getting it done all over the ice.”
He sure is. And, now that he’s scoring, he’s getting it done on the scoresheet, too.
Staal injured on scary play
The game was brought to a momentary halt 5:45 into the third period when Marc Staal was struck on-or-near his right eye by a deflected shot from Kimmo Timonen. Staal went immediately to the ice, thrashing in pain, as players from both teams called for Rangers trainer Jim Ramsey while Girardi tried to comfort his fallen teammate.
With blood dripping onto the ice, Staal was able to get to his feet and skate off the ice under his own power, albeit with a towel covering his eye.
The Rangers provided no update on Staal’s condition after the game, though a report from The Journal News (N.Y.) indicated he was not taken to the hospital.
The Rangers have won ten of their last 11 games against the Flyers, including six straight at the Garden. Their only loss during the span came at Philadelphia earlier this season.
The Rangers scored a power-play goal for the third straight game. After starting the season an NHL-worst 4-44 (9.1%) on the man-advantage, they are 7-31 (22.6%) over their last nine games.
Ryan Callahan scored the first two Rangers goals, giving him four goals in his last six games. He has 15 goals in 30 career games against the Flyers.
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