By Jay Greenberg, Special to CBC Sports
Rick Nash was on the ice for an optional practice Thursday, a hint that he is not hurt, not even his feelings, as he looks for his first Rangers playoff goal.
In the balance Friday night in Washington hangs a 2-2 series
, but hardly the head of the team's best player.
"He's not built that way," said coach John Tortorella, who replaced Nash with Carl Hagelin on the Rangers' best line with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan in the third period of New York's 4-3 victory
"In the short time I have been with him I can't see it ever happening with him. He is too much of a pro."
After practice, Nash professionally discussed his 17 shots -- eight came in the first game -- that have not gone in and the operating space being denied him. Misery loves company as Alex Ovechkin's only goal in the series was in Game 1. But some of the pressure on the lead dogs has been relieved by good efforts closer to the sled. The Rangers scored four goals in both games in New York and the Caps three, plenty on both sides to win a normal playoff game.
"It's huge that guys have been stepping up, that's what you need in the playoffs," said Nash.
Still, it is hard to imagine either team triumphing in the end without production from its best player, who just has to keep firing.
Adam Oates is not going to short-change Ovechkin any shifts for the sake of getting him away from Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
"You could try," said the coach about such manipulations, "but every defensive zone draw they are out there.
"They know what we're doing and we will continue to do it whether we are home or away," said Tortorella on Thursday, more as a matter of fact than defiance."
Meanwhile, Nash hasn't been seeing a particular matchup, just waves of Caps coming at him.
"I usually get a lot of space coming off the wall, but they are using that winger to come down and block it," he said. "I just have to move it more and work for my space, use the weakside D and the shortside D."
Nash played only 2:51 of the third period of Game 4. Other than one first-period chance, when he backed in on a one-on-two and got off a spin-o-rama, the big left wing was more active in the two games in Washington.
"My personal opinion is he has been pretty involved," said Stepan. "He hasn't really caught a bounce yet, has played extremely well for us, no question about it."
Well, there is some question about it. But none about Nash and Ovechkin continuing to fire.
"Maybe we just handle the puck too long, tried to make some cute plays when we just have to play simple," said Ovechkin after practice. "We had more open ice in the first two games but I don't think they changed how they played [in New York].
"They put Callahan against our line. What is he going to do but make physical contact on you? Again, if we have a chance to shoot the puck we have to shoot it, not wait one second or more.
"Last game we didn't create chances. Everybody knows me and Nick [Backstrom] and Jo-Jo [Marcus Johansson] have to play better. First two games, we got the puck in the neutral zone and I had the speed and the puck. Of course they have good D but it we have good speed we're pretty tough to stop."The T word
Tortorella said Thursday he hates the word "tweaking" and isn't particularly fond of "adjusting," primarily because it is a myth that he changes strategy per opponent or period.
"Doesn't matter who, you want to make the other team's best players play in their end," he said. "They don't want to be there."
There was little question, though, he made the tweak of Game 4 by starting the Rangers' second unit on the power play that began the third period.
"It's not me playing a hunch," he said. "It's been out best unit.
"The other group is coming along but we thought [the second] has been doing a better job of creating zone time and making plays. That was a helluva play by Brass [Derick Brassard]."
Brassard backhanded a saucer pass to Dan Girardi, who scored from between the circles to break the 2-2 tie that had been created by Troy Brouwer's goal with 17 seconds remaining in the second period.
"After watching it again, the last six or seven minutes of the second period [when Washington scored twice] wasn't as bad as I thought," said Tortorella. "They were opportunistic and that's the way they are, a dangerous team that way.
"But to lose it with 17 seconds left, when they didn't have that many scoring chances up to that point, that was a tough one. So if they surge on us in Washington, and they will, it's good to have gone through some adversity.
"Last night there was more swings in that game that we have had in quite a while. That's good experience as we have moved forward."
Marc Staal, scratched in Game 4 after appearing fine in his Game 3 return from an early March puck in the eye, did not skate Thursday. "Nice try," Tortorella told a reporter who had the temerity to ask about Staal's status ... Adam Oates said Martin Erat, who appeared to injure his wrist as he slid into the net after he and Ovechkin sandwiched Stepan on a first-period Ranger scoring chance, will not play in Game 5. The Caps coach would not name Erat's lineup replacement. "Just trying to think of all the possibilities," said Oates.Follow Jay Greenberg on Twitter @ScribeJG.
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