The signs were there at the end of the regular season as Martin St. Louis began to look like the player the Rangers hoped they had acquired. It continued on Thursday night. St. Louis, while not registering a shot, was engaged, around the puck and around the net all night long and came up with two huge assists as the Rangers put down the Flyers 4-1.
Brad Richards may have played his best ever game for the Rangers Thursday night. The veteran center had a huge powerplay goal, two crucial assists, playing an energetic game while being physically and defensively committed all night long. He was there when it mattered.
Then there’s Rick Nash. Nash looked to test Ray Emery at every opportunity (given he was shaky to begin, it was the right thing to do) and as the game developed Nash looked to go to the net with more frequency and could have scored as he cut to the net from the left. Nash also got an assist, as reward for his consistent performance on the night. If Nash drives to the net with more regularity the Rangers will be that much more dangerous.
It’s worth noting that the Rangers three most prominent forwards were three of the top four forwards in ice-time on Thursday. That has to continue if the Rangers are to be successful. If the Rangers have a long playoff run Nash, Richards and St Louis will all be contributors. This club doesn’t have the depth in terms of high end skill to survive without them producing so Thursday was a promising start.
When the Rangers big three are on their games, they are a match for any one – even the apparent powerhouses Boston and Pittsburgh. When Nash, St Louis and Richards are commanding the attention of the opponents best lines/ defensive pairs it allows more space for Mats Zuccarello and co. It allows the Rangers most consistent line of Zuccarello- Brassard – Pouliot to continue what they have done all season long – produce in the shadows of the Rangers marquee names.
Hockey clichés will tell you that goaltending, defense and depth win playoff series’. The Rangers definitely have the goaltending, they have a defensive unit that can match up with almost anyone in the league and when their big names are on form, they have the depth. If the Rangers are going to get near a Cup this year it has to start with the big three."The Rangers’ ‘big three’ coming to the fore at the right time?",