Rick Nash becoming more assertive during Rangers' playoff push

Rick Nash celebrates his second goal of the

Rick Nash celebrates his second goal of the game at 6:21 in the third period during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (March 26, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

KANATA, Ontario

The hat box didn't do the job, but Rick Nash did.

On Tuesday, the 6-4 power forward, who scored two huge goals in the Rangers' 5-2 revival in Philadelphia, walked sheepishly out of the locker room for a television interview while fumbling to reshape the rumpled black fedora, brim bent and upturned, which is awarded to the Ranger who contributes most to a victory.

The sight was particularly amusing for those who have seen the fastidious Nash, every day after practice, arrange his long white sweat socks, wristbands, soft pads and other equipment just so, on the bench of his locker, like a curator laying out his museum case.

This season's chapeau had been kept in tiptop form in its plastic carryall, hardly resembling the original Broadway Hat, battered from use and abuse during the Rangers' 51-win campaign last year. Maybe this one needs to get a little sweaty and greasy and gritty, like its discarded predecessor. With just 16 wins and a month to go in the season, Nash and his teammates will need to begin pulling out the lid often in order to nail down a playoff spot.

Nash, who scored the opening goal in the Flyers game and the insurance marker when the Flyers closed to 3-2, is certainly pushing for it to happen.

The 28-year-old perennial All-Star, who was acquired from Columbus last summer, has been on a point-a-game pace since returning from a three-game absence while recovering from strains and bruises and what may have been a mild concussion, although neither he nor the team acknowledged it.

In the last 14 games leading up to Thursday night's game against the Senators, he has nine goals -- two of them game-winners -- and seven assists.

"It was big to get that first one," Nash said of his top-shelf wrister from the slot on Tuesday. "We played a bit more easy once it went in. It was a good 'D'-to-'D' play, they kind of worked it around, then [Derek] Stepan made a great saucer pass."

On the second, using his reach for a strong wraparound, Nash said: "I kind of timed that right and went far side," and again lauded linemates Stepan and Carl Hagelin. "They were working hard to get me the puck."

As the weeks have passed, Nash also has become more assertive, calling for the puck at different spots on the ice, and joked about it before the Flyers game, saying that he always wants the puck and "anytime someone can hunt it down and get it to me, that's great."

It was the second time Nash earned the Hat. He wore the nicely kept version after the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Sabres on March 3 at Madison Square Garden. Nash scored a goal and assist -- both on the power play -- and then found the net in the opening round of the shootout.

Nash and the Rangers realize they can't expect a five-goal outburst every night, but a little more breathing room for goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron wouldn't hurt.

To that end, some reinforcements have arrived. Left wing Mats Zuccarello, 25, after playing a season in Russia's KHL, re-joined the team here Wednesday, and right wing Jesper Fasth, 21, whose season in the Swedish Elite League is over and was in New York getting a physical, will get a look in the AHL or NHL.

"This is a critical road trip for us," said Nash, speaking about games at Scotiabank Place and Bell Centre, which have been loud, formidable venues for the Blueshirts. But he also could have been referring to Canadian teams, against whom the Rangers are 0-for-7, including losses here, in Montreal and Winnipeg.

Given that streak, seeing Nash or someone wearing the Hat once or twice before Sunday would be more than just a fashion statement.

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