New York Rangers forward Taylor Pyatt initially thought the team's equipment managers might not like him as much as Rick Nash.
Each day, Pyatt would glance over to Nash's adjacent locker at the team's practice facility and notice long socks, wristbands, ankle braces and other assorted gear neatly arranged and folded — etiquette rarely seen within hockey dressing rooms. Pyatt figured it was at the request of New York's newest superstar, not the quirk of a meticulous neat freak.
"I thought he was getting special treatment," Pyatt said this week, after watching Nash carefully fold and place every piece of equipment along a bench in front of his stall. "But he's just the most organized guy on the team."
Erasing doubts over Nash's lack of postseason success has been a much harder task for the former No. 1 overall draft pick.
One of the few new faces when the Rangers and Washington Capitals face off in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth time in five years Thursday, Nash is about to embark on the sort of journey he longed for when New York acquired him in a major offseason trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Though the 28-year-old forward is undoubtedly one of the game's stars, with a combination of offensive skill, size and speed few can counter, Nash has played in just one playoff series during his 10-year NHL career — a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings in 2009.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure that out," Nash said of his postseason inexperience. "I've only had four playoff games, and it's been a tough part of my career. … I'm trying to take full advantage of playing here."
One person who won't mention that distinction in the coming days is Rangers coach John Tortorella. Unlike past postseasons, the Rangers now possess a weapon up front to match Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin and support goalie Henrik Lundqvist in net. Despite advancing to the Eastern Conference finals last season, New York averaged just 2.15 goals per game in the postseason.
Nash has surprised even his normally inscrutable coach, assimilating into Tortorella's aggressive, defense-first, forechecking system. It hasn't had an adverse effect on his offensive production. After watching his goals and points decrease every season following a career year in 2008-09, Nash was back on a 40-goal pace (21 goals, 21 assists) during this lockout-shortened campaign.
On several goals this season, the 6-foot-4 Nash has nimbly skated through the defense only to stop on a dime in front of the net, using the long reach of his stick to keep the puck away from opponents. Pyatt equated it to a center posting up in basketball.
"I haven't seen too many players do that, but he does it all," Pyatt said, shaking his head. "There were high expectations with the big trade, and he's delivered on what was expected of him. It's never easy coming to a team like the Rangers."