Nash, Rangers revitalized in return to ice

NEW YORK -- Rick Nash got a spark to his game when he was named to the Canadian Olympic team back in January, and his experience in Sochi, Russia, appears to be having a similar effect on him now after winning gold.

Nash put the finishing touches on the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, executing a strong power move before beating goaltender Corey Crawford from the right circle to give the Rangers a two-goal lead in the third period.

Nash, who has been beaming from ear to ear ever since his return from Sochi, didn’t look lethargic or weary from his few weeks overseas, but rather refreshed and re-energized as the Blueshirts resumed play against one of the league’s elite teams.

After Derick Brassard buried his own rebound in the first period for a 1-0 lead, Nash put the Rangers up by a pair with 4:07 remaining in the third for a goal that ultimately stood up as the game winner in a critical victory for the Rangers.

Backup netminder Cam Talbot was also stellar in turning away 31 of 32 shots faced Thursday, a performance that drew resounding chants and cheers from an appreciative MSG crowd.

“To come out and beat the defending champs coming off a break like that is a good measuring stick for us moving forward, so we know when we play our best hockey we can beat anyone,” said Talbot. “It’s a good confidence booster for us coming down the stretch.”

Meanwhile, the Hawks looked ragged and disjointed in the first 40 minutes of play, very much like a team that hasn’t played in a few weeks. Granted, the Hawks sent 10 players to Sochi -- the Rangers sent seven -- but they couldn’t solve Talbot until the waning seconds of the game, despite periods of sustained pressure in the third.

Talbot, who received the start in coach Alain Vigneault’s attempt to get starter Henrik Lundqvist some rest after a busy Olympic tournament, held the league’s leading offense scoreless for more than 59 minutes before yielding a goal with 11.6 seconds remaining. Blackhawks forward Peter Regin, acquired in a trade with the Islanders before the Olympic break, spoiled what would’ve been Talbot’s third shutout of the season.

In a frenzied end to the game, Patrick Kane came perilously close to tying the score with time winding down, but Talbot held firm.

“I felt it,” he said. “It felt like the longest 11 seconds in the world. I didn’t think they were going to get down the ice that quick.”

Regardless, the Rangers held on for the two points, an important win that provided them some much-needed separation from the Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Rangers face their bitter rivals, who fell 7-3 to San Jose Thursday, in Philadelphia on Saturday with the opportunity to put even more distance between the two clubs.

“The guys had a great game,” Nash said. “I don’t think anyone expected it to be that tight [at the end], but it was a huge win and two points.”

More importantly, the Rangers established themselves as a club capable of beating one of the toughest teams in the NHL. With only a pair of games and less than a week remaining before the NHL trade deadline, that will be something for GM Glen Sather to consider when mulling some important moves.

“I think it helped that it was a team like Chicago,” said defenseman Marc Staal, who played despite battling back spasms earlier in the week. “It’s nice not to have a letdown. It wasn’t our greatest game, but I thought we were smart and did what we had to do to win a game … It’s nice to come out of the break starting off with a win and get it going again.”