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.