Nash would have made huge difference to Rangers

Sun Media's Steve Simmons says with Rick Nash in Ranger colours, there would be no seventh game....

Sun Media's Steve Simmons says with Rick Nash in Ranger colours, there would be no seventh game. This series would already be over. (GETTY)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:55 AM ET

NEW YORK - As Glen Sather slowly made his way down the hallway towards the New York Rangers dressing room, with his head down, as the only one in the building wearing a trench coat, you wonder if he's thinking: Would any of this be different with Rick Nash?

Would Sather's mistake-filled tenure of running the Rangers have been corrected in this strange playoff spring by completing the deal he worked so hard on and couldn't find a way to make happen?

The Rangers aren't exactly on the ropes but it's just about 50-50 whether the top seed in the Eastern Conference advances to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Just as it was about 50-50 they would survive the opening round, when they were primarily outplayed by the Ottawa Senators.

The Washington Capitals have been full value taking the Rangers to seven games, turning the series into Saturday night's best of one. All this in a most unusual playoff spring.

When the post-season began, the assumption was the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins would be the toughest outs in the East. They both lost in the first round. And when the Philadelphia Flyers showed so much speed and gumption in Round 1, they emerged as logical favourites. Now, they're gone.

The Rangers, first in the East but hardly anyone's choice to make it through to the Cup final, play a game Saturday that may, in fact, define their season.

Win and they're into the Conference final. Lose and this series -- and even the season -- goes down as one large opportunity lost, a Stanley Cup run that wasn't.

This series has been a tightrope walk for the Rangers. They won a triple-overtime game after Alex Ovechkin hit the post earlier and took a game they probably should have lost. They trailed by a goal with seven seconds to go in Game 5, tied the game, scored in overtime, got two power-play goals on one double minor, and turned a loss into a win.

The games in this series have been that close, that unpredictable.

The Rangers have been more fortunate than good in the series. With Rick Nash in the Rangers lineup, you have to believe there would not have been a seventh game in Round 1 and, quite likely, there wouldn't be a seventh game Saturday here at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers made all kinds of offers for the available scoring winger, just not an offer the Columbus Blue Jackets were willing to take. Columbus wanted young Chris Kreider. The Rangers said no. Columbus wanted one of their top four defencemen. The Rangers said no. The Rangers offered up volume: First-round pick after first-round pick -- this year's, next year's, a few other moving parts.

But imagine Nash with this Rangers team now.

They don't have a big forward who gets on the inside, who can create his own offence, who can cause defensive mismatches for the opponent. Nash scored just 30 goals this past season, his worst total in years. But he did that without any kind of help around him, without a centre, with a team that offered little, and without any kind of motivation.

Now take the nine-year veteran, who has never won a playoff game, never been in more than one round, never had anything close to an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup, and and plunk him on to one of the Rangers top lines and see the difference.

Years ago, Cliff Fletcher was willing to trade away Brett Hull so he could win a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames, the only Stanley Cup in that franchise's history. Sather was unwilling to make the kind of difficult investment needed to bring Nash to New York.

In this series, Carl Hagelin has played on the same line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, a choice position with the Rangers. Hagelin has no points in six games against Washington. Brian Boyle, a surprising fixture in Round 1 until he was hurt, has no goals in the series. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan has one. Derek Stepan, one of the players the Rangers offered to Columbus, has no goals in the series.

The talented Gaborik, who plays too much on the periphery, has three, one of them a junk goal late Wednesday night, the biggest one the triple-overtime winner where he did none of the work except convert a centre-out pass.

The Rangers look small up front, don't have enough net presence, and if it's not obvious now, it might be should they advance to the next round and play the New Jersey Devils.

In their three losses in this series, they have scored all of four goals. With Rick Nash in Ranger colours, there would be no seventh game. This series would already be over.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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