NEW YORK -- There is no consolation when you’re losing, no silver lining when you are just one game shy of being swept.
So forget that Rick Nash was as energetic and engaged as he has been this entire postseason, driving the net with purpose and passion in a display that was such a sharp contrast from earlier this spring.
He has been held off the scoresheet now for four straight games -- and the Rangers have lost three of those. There is no comfort in that for the proud 29-year-old winger, who has shouldered significant pressure for the Blueshirts all playoffs long.
“I can’t be satisfied when we’re losing,” Nash said. “Right now, chances aren’t good enough. They’ve got to be going in, we’ve got to be helping the team win.”
Nash knows this feeling too well. He experienced the nadir of his Rangers tenure earlier this postseason, when he was booed for his inability to score during the second round. He was held without a goal in the first two seven-game series before finally snapping the lengthy drought in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Montreal Canadiens. He finished with three goals that series.
Nash has failed to record a point in the first three games against the Kings, and it seems to be the familiar scapegoat role again for the $7.8 million man. But here’s the thing: He’s actually playing good hockey. He has had jump. He has played physical. He has skated with abandon, barreling into Kings netminder Jonathan Quick at the end of the second period -- notable if only because he seemed reluctant to crash the crease in the first two rounds of play.
He even earned his way back on the power play, ending what has been a head-scratching, borderline-inexplicable absence from the man-advantage, in which he finished with 2:18 of ice time Monday night.
“I liked his effort level tonight. He battled real hard like he’s done through the playoffs for us. Doesn’t have a lot to show for it, but he’s competing hard,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “I just wanted to see if we couldn't throw a different look at them.”
Ultimately, it did not make a difference. The Rangers got some good looks, but Quick was a wall en route to posting his second shutout of the postseason. New York was blanked on all six man-up attempts.
But, why wasn’t Nash seen as a viable option before the fourth power-play of the night? Isn’t that the whole reason the Rangers traded for the two-time 40-goal scorer? To be the difference-maker in these sorts of games?
“The groups that they had were clicking. They gained some chemistry with each other, and they obviously couldn’t get the job done tonight, so [associate coach Scott Arniel] switched things up,” Nash said of his appearance.
The power play needs to be better. Nash needs to be better. Everything needs to improve if the Rangers want to salvage some pride and try to make this still a series. Heading into Game 3, the Rangers assuaged their frustration by taking solace in the fact that they were only a few bounces removed from being up 2-0 themselves. That’s a harder argument to make after Monday night, even if their puck luck remains woeful.
“Yeah, I think you have to work for your breaks,” Nash said. “We’ve got to work for our luck. Tonight, we made mistakes and it ended up in the back of our net.”
There is no longer room for mistakes, no margin of error with a Stanley Cup championship that hangs in the balance. Lord Stanley’s cup will be in the building on Wednesday, and it’s up to Nash and the Rangers to prevent the Kings from escorting it back to Los Angeles.
“For me, I think it just comes down to one win. We’ve just got to worry about this next game. We can’t worry about the big picture right now,” Nash said. “We’ve just got to worry about the next game.”
It’s not about individual performances now -- for Nash or anyone else. It’s about the collective effort. It’s about preserving belief.
“We gotta believe,” forward Mats Zuccarello said. “We’ve done it before. It’s been done before. Harder things have been achieved.”