Rick Nash snaps scoring slump

MONTREAL -- If there was any game in which to snap a goal-scoring skid, this was the one to do it.

With the New York Rangers absolutely manhandling the Montreal Canadiens in a surprising 7-2 smackdown during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, slumping winger Rick Nash took advantage.

After 14 straight playoff games this spring without scoring, Nash, who replaced the injured Derick Brassard on the power-play unit, finally found the back of the net with a power-play goal that gave the Rangers a whopping six-goal lead in the third period.

Nash admitted a sense of relief after the game, though he said he was pleased with the Rangers’ inspired win more than any personal accolades.

“Yeah, for sure, it was nice to get that one,” he said. “As I said all along, the more important thing is that we're doing the right things as a team to win games."

Nash’s goal was just one of an onslaught against the Habs that saddled the home team with a demoralizing loss in the series opener. The Rangers opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period and kept pushing all game long, chasing Canadiens goaltender Carey Price from the net after the second period and continuing the attack even after backup Peter Budaj entered the game to replace him.

Nash’s goal meant little in a game that was already over for Montreal, but it may prove critical in alleviating some of the pressure he has endured in the wake of a drought that seemed interminable for the two-time 40-goal scorer.

That lack of production made him the ire of Rangers fans' frustration early in the second-round series, when they turned on the $7.8 million man and booed him when he touched the puck in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden last week.

His teammate Brad Richards, who was incensed at that display from fans, said he was happy to see Nash break through Saturday. As Nash did, however, Richards said that the team’s performance was paramount, not any individual’s contributions.

“We're all happy to see Nasher score because he's taken a lot of heat. That's a little weight off his back, but really, it doesn't matter. We won the game,” Richards said. “When you're in the playoffs, when it's [7-2], no one's jumping up and down about who scored goals. We won as a team, we've got a good start and we're going to move on to Game 2.”

It doesn’t hurt that they have one of their top offensive threats back on the score sheet, however. Prior to Saturday’s man-up marker, Nash had tallied only one goal in 26 playoff games as a New York Ranger.

Speaking of top producers, Ryan McDonagh’s team-high four points was, according to Elias Sports Bureau, the most from a Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch did the same in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver on June 7, 1994.

Chris Kreider, who scored the game-winning goal Saturday, has recorded four points in the past four games since returning from a left hand injury that sidelined him for 19 straight games.

The 23-year-old winger also bowled over Price on a breakaway earlier in the game, a collision that seemed to leave Price shaken up. Kreider said that he was not trying to “run” Price, but that he lost his balance while trying to corral a bouncing puck.

“It wasn't really sitting for me, so I had my head down trying to settle the puck. I put it wide and somehow lost my footing. I thought maybe someone pressured me from behind,” he told reporters after the game. “I seem to have an issue staying on my feet on those, but then I went in skates first and I just had too much momentum and couldn't really avoid him. It didn't feel too good for me, either.”