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Playoffs 2013Rangers' Rick Nash ready to 'step up' in playoff return

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 | 02:32 PM

Categories: New York Rangers, Playoffs 2013, WAS vs NYR, Washington Capitals

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Rick Nash, in his 10th NHL season, has only four games of playoff experience. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Rick Nash, in his 10th NHL season, has only four games of playoff experience. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Rick Nash, acquired last summer from mostly playoff-less Columbus, has become the face of the high-profile Rangers franchise. The high-scoring forward says he's embracing expectations ahead of Thursday's post-season opener against Washington.
By Jay Greenberg, Special to CBC Sports

It wasn't great while it lasted, Rick Nash's previous playoff experience.

In the Columbus franchise's only playoff appearance, the 2008-09 Blue Jackets were swept by Detroit and outscored 18-8, with Nash scoring one goal and three points and recording a minus-4.

The Blue Jackets were happy to be there regardless. This year's Rangers, considered to be a Stanley Cup threat as the abbreviated season began, but now a seventh seed as their lack of depth was exposed over 48 games, would hardly receive a pass on a first-round loss to Washington, not after making the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons and reaching the Eastern Conference final a year ago.

Nash, acquired last summer, has become the face of the high-profile franchise, especially as Brad Richards has struggled and Marian Gaborik has been exiled to Columbus.  The big and game-breaking winger is decidedly happy to be in New York -- "all I expected and more" -- but can't be satisfied with mere participation. He says he is embracing the expectations.

"I had a little taste of energy and excitement so it still was nice having those four games under my belt." he said. "But I haven't had the biggest amount [of pressure].

"It's time to step up, what all great athletes have done. There are no other options, that's the way it has to go. When you suit up for Hockey Canada [in the 2010 Olympics, Nash had two goals and five points in seven games] it's on a huge stage and it's the same kind of feeling as here, a lot of pressure to win. It's fun, this is when hockey counts.

"You have to work for your space all the time, but in the playoffs even more.  I'm looking forward to getting started."

Ward in

Joel Ward, out with a knee contusion since blocking a shot by Tampa Bay's Sami Salo on April 7, returns to the Capitals lineup for Game 1 on Thursday night.  He replaces Aaron Volpatti on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle.

"I'm just looking to go out there and let the adrenaline take place and just play," said Ward.

"His ability to keep the cycles alive, keep control of the puck in the offensive zone, he's very good at that," said Hendricks, who will move to left wing from centre, where he has been in Ward's absence. "Having Joel back on the right side is going to give us a little more offence through the lineup."

Ward recorded eight goals and 12 assists in 39 games this season. For a fourth-line guy, he had an eventful 2012 playoffs for the Caps, scoring the overtime winner in Game 7 to eliminate Boston, and also taking a late third period double high sticking minor in Game 6 that enabled the Rangers to tie the game in the final seconds, then win it in overtime. New York won in seven games.

Staal out

As expected, Marc Staal, out since March 5 with blurred vision after taking a puck in the eye, will not play in Game 1. The Rangers defenceman said he felt fine, but cited the difficulty of jumping back into a playoff situation.

"I take every day as it comes and I'm happy with the way it went today and felt pretty good, so I'll go through that again tomorrow," he said after the morning skate. "When I feel like I'm going to be able to help the team win and be successful, then I'll get back on the ice. Hopefully, that's sooner rather than later.

"As soon as I'm not second guessing myself or things become automatic again is when I can jump into a playoff-type game. If you go out there in a playoff game and you're thinking too much, you're going to get yourself in trouble.

"If it's Game 10 [in the regular season] or something, maybe I jump out there for a few shifts and see how it goes. But right now the stakes are too high and the guys that are in there are doing a great job."

Staal said he no longer can tell a difference in his vision from before the accident.

"I'm getting adjusted and getting used to it," he said. "It could be three or four months and still be gradually improving, the doctor says, so it's one of those things you can't really gauge."
Centre Brian Boyle (suspected knee injury) also skated and reported progress but was not expected to suit up for Game 1, either.

Lines and defense pairings

New York


Del Zotto-Stralman

Goalie: Lundqvist




Goalie: Holtby

Follow Jay Greenberg on Twitter @ScribeJG.

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