Rangers' Nash Struggles, And So Does His Team

NEW YORK — He barreled in on a 3-on-1 break. The puck stood on its edge and Rick Nash shanked a wrist shot wide of the Pittsburgh net. Ugly.

On a power play that has been 36 shades of destitute, Nash turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Kris Letang made a nifty play to chip it ahead and send Brian Gibbons in alone on Henrik Lundqvist. Gibbons lost control of the puck at the goalmouth. With Lunqvist down, however, Brandon Sutter was free to lift the puck into the net. Lundqvist smashed his goalie stick across the crossbar in disgust. Beyond ugly.

Given Nash's night, given his series, given his playoff, given his playoff history, maybe it wasn't that surprising that the Madison Square Garden fans booed him when he touched the puck in the third period of a back-breaking 4-2 Eastern Conference semifinal Game 4 loss to the Penguins Wednesday night.

No, it wasn't with the ear-trembling velocity that the Boston fans have had for Montreal's P.K. Subban in their playoff series. But it was plenty loud enough and it was consistent for the final 20 minutes. And, really, how many times do you remember the home fans booing their own player?

Good grief. Has Rick Nash turned into Alex Rodriguez?

OK, OK, he'll have to have a couple of more horrible playoffs and suffer a steroids scandal to become A-Rod in New York. But you get the picture.

Nash is posting postseason numbers that only A-Rod in October in the Bronx could fully appreciate.

The Penguins have won three in a row now and New York stands within one game of elimination. The good news for the Rangers is that after being shut out in back-to-back games, they were able to put two pucks behind Marc-Andre Fleury. The bad news is that the line of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz looks like it is poised to take over this series. The worse news for the Rangers is that they were a turnover machine in Game 4. And the worst news is that the power play and Nash continue to post zero after zero after zero after zero.

Nash was bad. Martin St. Louis was bad. Defenseman Ryan McDonough sure looks like he's playing hurt. In a desperate situation, the Rangers were lousy. Their stars were lousy.

Nash, an established 40-goal scorer in the NHL, has a league-leading 45 shots on goal in 11 playoff games. He has yet to score a goal. There have been some nights this spring when Nash has done so many things right and just couldn't put it past the goalie. This was not one of them. He played badly and now he is hearing it big time.

There is no coach John Tortorella to blame it all on anymore.

"For sure, it's tough," Nash said. "But you understand where it's coming from. I made a tough play that caused us a goal against. It definitely gave them momentum. It's a play where maybe I can't try to make something out of nothing. I've got to turn back and take my ice. I've got to do better."

The Rangers needed all the offense they could get. They got some good news when Chris Kreider, who had been out with a fractured left hand since March 21, was cleared to play for the first time in the playoffs. The Rangers need his size. The Rangers need his speed. The Rangers need his offensive touch. In the early going, in fact, Kreider seemed to be the most active Blueshirt.

The fans were into it from the start. The Garden was plenty loud. Only the Rangers didn't come out with enough fire. They didn't burn like their season depended on it. The sense of urgency? Well, we really didn't see much of it until the final six minutes of the first period, when they finally got some forechecking going.

The Rangers had a whopping 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. The Penguins, not surprisingly, scored the only goal. And not surprisingly, the goal came off a turnover. Malkin picked off Anton Stralman's pass up the middle. From there, the Rangers didn't have the best luck. Crosby's pass slid through Marc Staal and Malkin was there to beat Lundqvist with a spinning backhander.

Carl Hagelin did tie the game 5:30 into the second period when he took a McDonough pass, hit the blue line with speed and defenseman Matt Niskanen backed off evidently to play the pass. Hagelin blew in and ended Fleury's shutout sequence at 145 minutes, 30 seconds, with a shot to the glove side.

But then came the short-handed goal.

"Huge momentum for us," Crosby said. "We fed off that for sure."

"It's tough," Lundqvist said. "I don't want to say much more."

The Rangers are 0-for-36 on the power play since scoring in the first series against the Flyers. Through four games against the Penguins, the power play has been outscored, 1-0. Yikes.

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