Rick Nash has been 'The Real Deal' for the Rangers

Rick Nash (61) shoots the puck past Tampa Rick Nash (61) shoots the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon (32) to score during the third period of a game in Tampa, Fla. (Feb. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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GREEENBURGH, N.Y. -- As a youngster in Brampton, Ontario, Rick Nash's favorite player was Mats Sundin, the storied Maple Leafs center who had size and skill -- much like the Nash of today.

"Does he remind me of Sundin?" asked veteran goalie Martin Biron, who sits near Nash's locker at the Rangers' training center. "A little. All I know is Rick makes me look like a Pee-Wee goalie in practice."

"[He is] a little like [former Flyer] John LeClair, but LeClair was more of a shooter, not an all-around player," Biron said about Nash, who leads the surging Rangers with 10 points. "You could put five star players in a bowl and blend them and you have Nash. Sundin would be in that bowl. Sundin was more finesse; Rick has that and is grittier. He blocks shots, takes a hit; when [Boston's Milan] Lucic hit him Tuesday, he went right back at him. That's what sets him apart."

With 12 games in the books as a Ranger, Nash, the perennial All-Star power forward with an Olympic gold medal from 2010 and string of achievements longer than the line at a Manhattan taxi stand, is coming on as the Rangers (7-5-0) gain traction.

Acquired in a trade with Columbus in July in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, defenseman Tim Erixon and the Rangers' first-round selection in the 2013 draft, the 6-4 Nash leads the team with 10 points and showcased his formidable talents in Boston.

Nash dazzled three Bruins defenders on a first-period rush that ended, while falling, with a sweeping pass to Carl Hagelin for a goal.

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"The play he makes is just unbelievable," said coach John Tortorella, who has called Nash "the real deal."

"He's helped us in all areas. You know how I feel about him. He's been one of our better players offensively, he's hit . . . he's everything we wanted, and I think he's going to get better."

Against the Bruins, Nash bewildered netminder Tuukka Rask with a stunning deke and reach-around in the shootout during the 4-3 win. When two of Tuesday's top five 'Plays of the Day" on ESPN involve a single NHL player, he must have had quite a game.

"Not many players have the size and those hands," said Joe Micheletti, the MSG and NBC analyst. "Mark Messier and I were talking about a week ago and he said Nash reminds him of Jaromir Jagr, the way he can shield the puck with his strength and his body until he decides to pass or go to the net."

Jeff Halpern, a 12-year veteran, said Nash reminds him of Keith Tkachuk, "but Nash is more polished overall." That includes off the ice, when Nash answers questions after a win or a loss, emphasizing the "we," not the "I" as themes. In that way, he is similar to Sundin: consistently productive, and a low-key, team-first gamer.

After a firewagon first period in which Tampa Bay had six prime scoring chances on Sunday, Nash said: "We addressed it and I thought we came back better . . . we tried to tighten up."

They did, and Nash, with 293 career goals, did what he has built a reputation on: Finishing. He scored the final one of the game.

Notes & quotes: The Rangers have a decision to make by tomorrow if prospect J.T. Miller plays against the Islanders on Thursday, his fifth NHL game. If the 19-year-old plays six games, he forfeits a year of eligibility on his entry-level contract, so he could be returned to the AHL's Connecticut Whale . . . Defenseman Steve Eminger was sent to Connecticut for conditioning.

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