Rangers-Bruins Preview

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
(51-24-7) 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, which will
finally get going Saturday night when the Rangers visit the Boston
Bruins.

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 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 in a sweep at the
hands of Detroit.

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 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.”

He’ll find some passionate fans who won’t be rooting for him
Saturday in Boston.

There’s one big difference for the Bruins this year as they try
to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons.

They’ll have to do it without Tim Thomas, the Vezina and Conn
Smythe Trophy-winning goaltender who was the star of their 2011
championship run. The enigmatic but frequently unbeatable goalie
has decided to take a year off, choosing instead to relax with his
family in Colorado.

That leaves the No. 1 goaltender job in the skates of Tuukka
Rask, who performed ably in the top spot in 2010 but has never been
the starter for an entire season.

“We’ve always kind of had a plan, a succession plan … for
handing the reins over to him when it’s time,” general manager
Peter Chiarelli said this week. “Maybe it’s a year early from my
perspective, but it’s close enough that we’re happy where he is in
his development.”

Rask had a 2.05 goals-against average in 25 games as Thomas’
backup last season, a year after posting a 2.67 mark in 29 games in
the 2010-11 regular season. In 2010, when Thomas was struggling
with a hip injury, Rask had a 1.97 GAA in a career-high 45 games
before the Bruins’ collapse in the second round of the playoffs
against Philadelphia.

The Bruins head into the shortened season with nine players who
found jobs in Europe during the lockout – among the most in the
league – and others who were able to play in the minors. They’re
hoping that gives them an edge after a one-week training camp that
will leave the unprepared gasping for air.

Among them was Rask, who played in the Czech Republic.

“The start’s going to be important for us, as it is for
everybody,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge mentally and
physically, for sure.”

He’ll face a challenge in a matchup with reigning Vezina Trophy
winner Henrik Lundqvist.

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

“It’s back to routine,” Lundqvist said. “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.”

Aside from Thomas, the Bruins (49-29-4) have most of their team
back after winning the Northeast Division, then falling to
Washington in overtime of Game 7 in the first round of the
playoffs.

Tyler Seguin, the former No. 2 overall draft pick who led Boston
with 29 goals and 67 points in his second season, signed a
six-year, $34 million contract just before the lockout. The Bruins
also signed forward Brad Marchand to a four-year deal and Milan
Lucic to a three-year extension around the same time.

Forward Nathan Horton appears ready to play for the first time
in nearly a year after a concussion.

Boston will need all the help it can get offensively to beat
Lundqvist, who has two shutouts in his last three trips to Boston
and a 1.53 GAA in 27 career games against the Bruins.