My column from The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
Who knew that fingers have minds of their own?
It took the longest time for me to get mine to type this: Rangers in 6.
The problem wasn’t the Rangers’ ghosts and ghouls who may or may not have moved from the Montreal Forum to the new arena in 1996, or whatever Montreal curse may or may not inhabit Henrik Lundqvist’s mind.
The problem certainly wasn’t that Montreal is decidedly better. I’ve thought all along the Rangers were a tick above the Canadiens in the Eastern food chain, and now that they’ve both knocked off the two favorites, Pittsburgh and Boston in Game 7s on the road in the previous round, well that hasn’t changed.
No, the problem with picking the Rangers in 6 is:
First, the Rangers never win in six games. Their last five series wins have all gone seven.
Second, and more importantly, Rangers in 6 (or 7 or whatever) means that this team, which looked so flawed for so long, and even during this playoff run at times, so inconsistent, is going to the Stanley Cup final.
That’s an awful lot to swallow and digest.
But Rangers in 6.
With caveats. Or tail-covering. One of them is, obviously, all bets being off if Lundqvist really is spooked by that arena and that loud, signing crowd. I don’t think he will be.
The other is Rick Nash.
How is it possible that the Rangers have won three seven-game playoff series the last two springs without him scoring even once? Not once. His only goal in 26 playoff games as a Ranger came in the five-game series loss to Boston last May.
Imagining the Rangers winning another series without goals from Nash, that’s a tough one.
Nash, early in the Philadelphia series, then in Game 7, and in Games 5, 6 and 7 vs. Pittsburgh, has been noticeable. Has been good with the puck at times, good without it a lot. His penalty killing, since the Olympics, has been outstanding. In other games in the first two rounds he wasn’t close to good enough, and when the Rangers lose and have trouble scoring, it comes back to him.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, before boarding a plane to Montreal Friday, said that in the team’s statistical analysis, Nash has been the best player in terms of chances for and chances against while a given player is on the ice.
Part of that is that, yes, Nash’s line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, has been good defensively, and has had the puck a lot, especially since Kreider returned from hand surgery and replaced Martin St. Louis.
Part of it is that the gameplan against Ray Emery, Steve Mason, then Marc-Andre Fleury, was to get pucks to the net from everywhere, and Nash has followed that plan, though others haven’t, and fired whenever possible (he leads the NHL with 52 playoff shots on goal).
So statistics tell some truths and some lies.
Your eyes tell you Nash doesn’t do all that is necessary to score goals, understandable after two concussions. And your common sense tells you a $7.8 million scorer who doesn’t score isn’t getting it done.
“I’m trying every night to score goals, put pucks in the back of the net, but it’s a bigger picture than me and me struggling,” Nash said. “This is about a team trying to win a championship and there’s a bunch of little pieces that go into that, and if I can help defensively right now then I’m going to do everything I can just to win games.
“I’m overdue,” he said. “I’d definitely say overdue, yeah.”
If he can find even a few goals the next two weeks, maybe my fingers will even believe: Rangers in 6.
Photo by Getty Images.