Rick Nash didn't miss a beat.
After being out four games with a combination of issues, including what were believed to be concussion-type symptoms, Nash stole the show with a goal, an assist, a career-high 12 shots and an array of moves that provided an offensive dynamic the Rangers sorely needed in a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at the Garden that erased a four-game losing streak.
"He was unbelievable. He did everything out there," said Henrik Lundqvist, who bounced back from allowing a soft third-period goal in a loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. "It's impressive. But at the same time, I know how good he is. So it doesn't surprise me, but it's not like he's been training. He's been home just relaxing, and it's tough to come back and play a game like that. But great players can do that."
Paced by goals by Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan in a 20-shot first period, the Rangers fired a season-high 42 shots at Mathieu Garon and had 23 more blocked. They held Tampa Bay to 11 shots in the first two periods while they built a 3-1 lead.
"The start was key," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who also returned with two assists in 25:34 of ice time after sitting out a game after being bloodied by Max Pacioretty's hit in Montreal. "We talked about it; it was good to get those goals and play with the lead."
Linemates Hagelin and Stepan were the main recipients of Nash's performance. "When you get a guy like that back, everyone wants to bring their level up to where he is, which is tough," said Hagelin, who blasted a slap shot from the left circle to open the scoring at 7:23. "You can see how the other team really respects him and starts playing tentative around him."
It was Hagelin's fourth goal in three games against Tampa Bay. Just 1:17 later, Stepan buried Ryan Callahan's rebound, and the Rangers were flying.
But Nash, who scored his fourth of the season with 1:33 to play on a pass from Brad Richards, was the catalyst. "It's incredible," McDonagh said. "He pulls moves off that not a lot of people can. He uses his body so well, it kind of seems like a nothing play, then all of a sudden he explodes through the middle of the zone and it's like chaos; he draws penalties and takes pucks to the net. He said he was feeling great all game."
Nash, who set the tone with a good first shift, said, "We were just taking shots from anywhere. It felt good. I wasn't there 100 percent, but it was pretty good. We have to get streaky. I think if we just build momentum off tonight and carry it into the next one, we'll be fine."
The big power forward picked up an assist on the third goal, a swipe by Marc Staal from in front, off a post by J.T. Miller, that slid past Garon at 16:08 of the second period to extend the Rangers' lead to 3-1. It came with nine seconds left on their fourth power play.
"It was an important game for me, and the team as well, to step up," said Lundqvist, who faced only 11 shots through the first 40 minutes and finished with 24 saves, including two stops on sniper Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn's semi-breakaway in the third.
"I feel the last couple weeks it's been pretty good, but the last [game] was not good enough, so it was important for me to play better."