GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Muskoka, a pristine Canadian region of lakes and evergreens, is where Rick Nash escapes in the offseason. About 135 miles north of Toronto, the landscape is dotted with cabins and cottages, and Saturday, Nash recalled summer mornings watching the mist rise off the water.
"Love it there," said Nash, now 31 and the father of an 11-month-old son. "I've had the place for about 10 years . . . a lot of older players are up there, and now some new ones are coming in."
But the 6-4 power forward, who scored 42 goals last season, the third-highest in the league and just one behind the Lightning's Steven Stamkos, doesn't kick back all summer. Check the facts.
Last September, Nash came into training camp in superb shape. "His [conditioning] results last year were significantly better than what they had been in the past, and you could tell it on the ice," coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday. "His test results this year were better than last year."
That presumably means that Nash will continue to be deployed in all situations: 5-on-5, the power play and penalty-killing. No one can predict, however, whether Nash can rise to the occasion in the postseason. He has scored 30 or more goals eight times in 12 seasons, and 40-plus three times.
The playoffs are another story: He has just 10 in 60 career playoff games, although five came last spring, when the Rangers rallied to win three straight to oust the Washington Capitals in seven games in the second round, but were eliminated by Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
In Game 6 in Tampa, the Rangers beat the Lightning, 7-3, to tie the series -- Nash scored a power play goal and added two assists. But the Blueshirts came up empty in Game 7 in a 2-0 loss at Madison Square Garden.
"I thought about that a lot in the summer, you want to take something from it," he said Saturday. "One thing that I felt was . . . momentum swings. We win a huge Game 6, the momentum should be our way. We've got to figure out a way to use that momentum each game. I wish I had an answer. In a game that huge, you've got to find a way to come out at home -- and we were trying -- it just didn't work that way."
Saturday in the first practice of training camp, Vigneault deployed Nash on a line with center Derek Stepan and left wing Chris Kreider, a change from last season. "Nasher with Brass [Derick Brassard] and Zuke [Mats Zuccarello] last year had a real good season, and Step and Kreids together got a lot of confidence," he said. "But I want to experiment," and he warned not to read too much into early combinations.
September is for regrouping, and Nash said: "I've kind of forgot about last year. You just try to come back stronger."
Nash isn't the only veteran vexed by the crushing finish. "When you get into the playoffs, if you want to have success, you have to stay even keeled," Stepan said. "When you have momentum on your side, you have to do your best to keep it, when it's against you, you have to find a way to get it back. We just weren't able to keep it. It's crazy to think about, when you leave, we were 60 minutes away from being at the spot we were in a year ago. There's certainly a lot of guys in here who have a bad taste in their mouth. It's going to drive the hunger going forward."