NEW YORK – The Rangers looked lost in their last four games without their most skilled player.
Thursday night at MSG, the Rangers (9-8-2) got their most skilled player back. Rick Nash, who had missed the team’s previous four games with an undisclosed injury, returned with a flourish as the Rangers zapped the Lightning (9-10-1), 4-1.
Nash scored once, added an assist, and threw a career-high 12 shots on goal – more than the Lightning had as a team in the first two periods.
“When you get a guy like that back, everyone wants to bring their level up to where he is,” said Carl Hagelin, who scored the Rangers opening goal. “He’s one of the best players in the league. He brings size, and the other team really respects him and plays tentative around him.”
“[Nash] was unbelievable,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves). “He did everything out there, and it’s impressive. At the same time, I know how good he is, so it doesn’t surprise me. It’s not like he’s been training when he’s been gone, he’s been home relaxing. It’s tough to come back and play a game like that. Great players can do that.”
The Rangers went 0-3-1 without Nash in their last four games, but were 7-2-1 in their previous ten games when Nash was in the lineup.
Nash assisted on a power-play goal – their first in a week — when Marc Staal got the final touch of a goalmouth scramble late in the second. He added a goal with 1:33 left in the third when he took a feed from Brad Richards and broke in on Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon (38 saves).
“Even after a day off it takes a little bit to get your timing back,” Nash said, critiquing his virtuoso performance. “Missing [four] games, wasn’t there 100%, but it was pretty good.”
Nash has scored at least a point in his last five games (two goals, five assists).
“What did Nash have, 20 shots himself?” asked Rangers coach John Tortorella. “He played really well. He’s just such a good one-on-one player, with his range and his reach and all. He played really well.”
The Rangers blitzed the Lightning in the first period – taking 20 of the game’s first 21 shots. The Rangers looked more confident with not only their star returning from injury, but Michael Del Zotto (lower body) and Ryan McDonagh (undisclosed) back on the ice as well.
“You get [Nash], McDonagh, Del Zotto – they’re three main cogs,” Tortorella said. “Nash immediately had an impact as far as offensive energy, doing some good things.”
“You look at that first period and after, we stuck with the system; the system works,” Nash said. “If we can all buy into that and stay consistent with the system, we’ll be a good team.”
“It was a good game from the start. Physical, we played with a lot of energy. We need that, we need emotion, we need energy. A lot of good things will happen when we do that,” said Lundqvist. “We needed that, and we deserved it too.”
Matt Gilroy (flu) and Arron Asham (back spasms) were scratched by the Rangers.
The Rangers won 67% of the faceoffs, with Brad Richards going a season-high 17-for-20, and Derek Stepan winning 11-of-17.
The Rangers swept the three-game season series against the Lightning, and are 12-3-4 in their last 19 games against Tampa Bay.
The Rangers are 19-4-2 in their last 25 games against the Southeast Division, and 4-1 against the Southeast Division this season.
The Rangers are 27-for-29 on the penalty kill in their last ten games.
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