Ranger Health Leads to Ranger Happiness

Three injured Rangers return and the losing streak goes up in smoke

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Nash is back and everything's right for the Rangers again.

    There's little doubt left about whether the Rangers are Rick Nash's team. 

    All you had to do was compare the effort they turned in during Thursday's 4-1 win over the Lightning with the way they played during the four-game losing streak that led into the game against Tampa. They fought harder for pucks, finished checks with a bit more verve and played with confidence. 

    Nash wasn't on the ice for every minute of the game, of course, and he only accounted for one of the goals, but it is hard to explain the difference in confidence by pointing to anything other than Nash. The team feels better about itself when he is on the ice and, as a result, it looks better. 

    That makes sense. The Rangers gave up a healthy chunk of last year's team to bring Nash to town for this season and they naturally look to him to lead them as a result. 

    Brad Richards looked better with Nash on a line alongside him and Carl Hagelin continued to flash the strong play he was showing before Nash went down with what was almost certainly a concussion, although you shouldn't hold your breath to hear the Rangers admit it. Nash took 12 shots, played all three zones of the ice and his appearance in a sweater alone removed pounds of tension from a team that had been playing much too tight without him on the ice. 

    It didn't hurt that Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto also returned from their injuries to flesh out a defensive group that was skeletal without them. Suddenly all three pairs could be on the ice in just about any situation, keeping everyone fresher and limiting the possibility of the kinds of breakdowns that had haunted the team during their losing streak. 

    Solid as they were on the backline, there was no taking the attention away from Nash. Every time No. 61 is on the ice, everything rotates around him and the Rangers probably didn't realize how much they missed having that kind of anchor to their team until they were actually forced to play without him. 

    So here's hoping that they don't have to go without him for any more stretches this season because, win or lose, it's more fun watching a team play its game than it is watching them stumble around without a clue. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.