Rangers LW Nash not feeling heat of NY spotlight

If going from being a Columbus Blue Jacket to a Broadway
Blueshirt carries a whole lot of pressure, Rick Nash isn’t feeling
it on his broad shoulders.

Welcome to New York, Rick. You’re not in Ohio anymore.

The long sought-after Nash finally was corralled by the Rangers
in a big offseason trade. New York is coming off a season in which
it finished first in the Eastern Conference, but the Rangers fell
short of the Stanley Cup finals with a conference finals loss to
the rival New Jersey Devils.

Expectations were already high for this season that will finally
get going Saturday night when the Rangers visit the Bruins in
Boston.

Throw the 6-foot-4 Nash into a forward mix that also features
high-scorers Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, and it’s hard not to
view the Rangers as being as serious a Stanley Cup threat as there
is out there.

”I couldn’t think of a better situation than to come here for
my career,” said Nash, who spent his first nine NHL seasons with
Columbus. ”I’m looking at it now and I’m happy I got the chance to
do it and I didn’t spend the time in one place my whole
career.”

Especially in the shadows of Columbus.

During his time with the Blue Jackets, Nash reached the playoffs
only once – a quick, four-game appearance in 2009 when he put up
one goal and two assists in a sweep at the hands of the eventual
Western Conference-champion Detroit Red Wings.

Nash can hardly be blamed for the Blue Jackets’ failures. He put
up 289 goals and 547 points in 674 games – including two 40-goal
seasons and five others in which he netted at least 30.

New York gave up key forwards Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky,
two other players and a first-round pick to bring the five-time
All-Star to the Rangers.

The move from Columbus to the spotlight of the Big Apple hasn’t
rattled the Ontario native a bit during the abbreviated one-week
training camp.

”This is great,” Nash said. ”This is what I grew up with in
Toronto, where hockey is a big deal. It’s a top-four major sport,
and this is what I love. This is what I dreamed of when I dreamed
of playing in the NHL. The only time I got that was when I went
back to Canada six times to play those teams, or play in the
Olympics.

”I’m embracing it all. This is what I feel is hockey. This is
part of it. It makes the game that much more special.”

That is exactly what the Rangers are counting on.

Certainly Nash is looked upon as a missing piece to a club that
also boasts Henrik Lundqvist, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as
the NHL’s top goalie last season, but he doesn’t have to carry the
burden of success alone.

That wasn’t the case when he was captain of the Blue
Jackets.

”As a Ranger you don’t have to worry about 22 other guys,”
Nash said. ”I felt like I had a lot of weight on my shoulders to
do that. Here, there are so many leaders, so many guys who have
been captains or assistant captains with other clubs, and young
guys who are respected in the dressing room.”

Throw in Richards’ readying for his second season with the
Rangers, a healthy Gaborik and defenseman Marc Staal, and solid
captain Ryan Callahan, and New York seemingly has the pieces for
another deep playoff run.

The trick is maneuvering through the lockout-shortened, 48-game
season over 99 days and being in prime shape once the postseason
arrives.

Richards is expected to center a line between Nash and speedy
Carl Hagelin.

”I think it’s a good pressure for us to realize that we have
some things to accomplish,” said Richards, who missed the first
three days of training camp because of the flu. ”We’re not just
out here to try to make the playoffs or stay in the middle of the
pack. We do want to push ourselves to be up top again.

”We have to realize everybody knows who we are and knows the
expectations. We’re not surprising anybody. We’re going to have to
play better than we did last year to even have a chance to have
that record.”

New York went 51-24-7 last season, finishing just two points shy
of Vancouver, which held the league’s best record.

Lundqvist was stellar in going 39-18-5 with a minuscule 1.97
goals-against average in 62 regular-season games and then 10-10
with a 1.82 GAA in the Rangers’ run to the NHL’s final four.

While the Rangers have a strong backup goalie in veteran Martin
Biron, clearly their fortunes rest on Lundqvist’s shoulders more
than anyone. The plan is for Lundqvist to again start about 75
percent of this season’s games.

The Rangers are scheduled to have six sets of games on
back-to-back days.

”It’s back to routine,” said Lundqvist, who didn’t play in
Europe during the lockout. ”It’s almost like your life slowly
starts to come back to you. It’s been missing for a long time, but
it’s fun to be back, and start to feel the adrenaline and start to
feel the pressure of performing and go out and try to reach your
top level. It’s a great challenge.

”I think everybody is enjoying themselves. We all missed this,
you know? It’s our lives. I miss everything about it, not only
being on the ice. I miss being here, I miss being on the road,
getting ready for games. It’s just a big part of my life that’s
been missing. Now it’s back.”

Every team will face the challenge of how to play a condensed
season, one of which hasn’t been seen since 1995 after another long
lockout.

”To me there’s no blueprint,” Rangers coach John Tortorella
said. ”I think the most important thing for the coaches is to have
a really good pulse of the team and how they feel. Recovery is
huge, and we’ve gone through the schedule three separate times as
far as recovery time. So I’m going to take it day-by-day and see
how our team is.”

The 30-year-old Gaborik could be primed for a big year after
surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder that hindered him
during last season’s playoffs. Gaborik played all 82 regular-season
games last season – his third with New York – and scored 41
goals.

”I haven’t been in a game situation, but it feels good,”
Gaborik said. ”This contact should get me ready. I don’t have any
hesitation; I’m not scared to get into battles or anything like
that. Every year is different, but it’s a short season, so you
really have to start right from the blocks and maintain your body
and focus in preparation for games and after games to recover
yourself.”

The Rangers made other offseason moves in addition to Nash,
losing rugged forward Brandon Prust but adding physical forward
Arron Asham, along with Micheal Haley, Taylor Pyatt and Jeff
Halpern.

”They’re going to add a lot to this team in a lot of key
areas,” forward Derek Stepan said.

None more important than landing the super prize of Nash.

”The big kid on the block,” Stepan said, ”he brings so much
to the table.”