As the 2013-14 NHL season comes to a close, the New York Rangers are facing a potential must-win game as Rick Nash and the rest of the Bronx Blue Shirts head to Nationwide Arena to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Currently, the Rangers and Blue Jackets are tied with 78 points each. However, the Blue Jackets have two games in hand on the Rangers, essentially setting this game up as almost a must-win situation for New York.
This matchup pins the past two Vezina Trophy winners against each other in a battle that should equate to a goaltender coach’s dream matchup. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets won the Vezina for his efforts in the shortened 2012-13 NHL season posting a 2.00 Goals-Against-Average (GAA) and an astounding fourth best Save Percentage in the history of Vezina Trophy winners (.932). Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers won the Vezina Trophy in the 2011-12 NHL season. Lundqvist posted a third best GAA (1.97) in the last 25 years during his Vezina year and had a .930 Save Percentage.
The Blue Jackets defensive numbers have not been the best this season, but Bobrovsky was recently named player of the week as he posted a 2-0-1 record to help Columbus climb in the Eastern Conference standings. Bobrovsky in that week posted a .950 Save Percentage and a 1.58 GAA. The Rangers defensively are posting great numbers this season being sixth in the NHL in team GAA (2.50) and seventh in the NHL in Penalty Kill Percentage (84.3). However, the Rangers offense this season, along with Rick Nash, has been struggling to find the back of the net, but they are coming off a huge win at the Montreal Canadiens.
Tonight will be the first time that Rick Nash and the New York Rangers head to play in Columbus since the Blue Jackets dealt him to New York in the summer of 2012. Rick Nash peaked in Columbus during the 2008-09 NHL season, where he posted 79 points and led the Blue Jackets to their only playoff in franchise history. It is safe to say that Rick Nash enjoyed his time with the Blue Jackets, especially playing in the Nationwide Arena in Columbus. In his last five years with Columbus, Nash averaged 68 points per season and nearly a point per game playing at the Nationwide Arena. Since being traded to New York, Nash kept pace with his averages in the shortened 2012-13 season, but this season has seen his output cut to the lowest of his career. Nash leads the team in goals right now with 22, but that does not really say much considering the Rangers are 18th in the league in scoring offense.
Since the Blue Jackets parted ways with Rick Nash, Columbus has missed the playoffs three straight seasons. As Rick Nash struggles to pick up the amount of points he had averaged in Columbus, the players the Blue Jackets acquired in the blockbuster deal are providing the Jackets with major offensive production helping place them in the top ten in the NHL in Goals per Game. Center Brandon Dubinsky this season is second on the team in scoring with 42 points right now and fellow Center Artem Anisimov has been consistent with 33 points… a combined total of 75 points this season. Compare that to Rick Nash’s 34 points this season and it is easy to see that the Columbus Blue Jackets also benefitted in the blockbuster trade.
As Rick Nash and the rest of the New York Rangers head in to Columbus’ Nationwide Arena tonight, look for Nash to possibly put up a big game in this emotional and potential must-win situation. The Red Wings and the Capitals are nipping at the heels of both of these teams with 77 points each. So not only does the winner separate themselves from the pack, giving themselves a little more breathing room, but they also have the possibility to skip out on a first round matchup with the streaking Boston Bruins, a team that the New York Rangers have yet to beat this season.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles