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Nash takes first step back with morning skate for Rangers

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Rick Nash hopes to return to action with the Rangers in 10-to-14 days.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rick Nash hopes to return to action with the Rangers in 10-to-14 days.

PITTSBURGH – Rick Nash skated Thursday morning for the first time since Feb. 2, without pain, and came off the CONSOL Energy Center ice excited about being 10-to-14 days away from playing if he has no setbacks.

He is aware his injury and the team’s success in his absence could alter his role when he returns, but that’s not his priority. The Stanley Cup is what he wants, and he just wants to be healthy enough to help win it.

“You always think about those things,” Nash, 31, said of possibly accepting a different role. “But the point I’m at in my career, I want to win a championship. And if that means playing a different role than I did before, then it doesn’t matter to me where I fit in, as long as I’m part of the team and we’re winning.”

Nash said “the silver lining” was waking up the past five weeks with his 16-month-old son McLaren. But he admitted it’s been agonizingly frustrating otherwise. He’s “been trying to be as positive as (he) can” during a full month off ice to heal a bone bruise in his left leg that bordered on a fracture.

LUNDQVIST A YEAR OLDER BUT FEELING ‘ENERGIZED’ AS EVER

Nash sustained the injury Jan. 22 on an awkward fall and subsequent shot block in the early third period of a 4-1 road win over Carolina. A “day-to-day” injury turned into a “week-to-week” ailment that spiraled into a total shutdown following a painful twirl Feb. 2 in Newark.

Nash called it “one of those injuries that had to get worse before it got better.” During Thursday morning’s light skate, though, he took a few wrist shots leaning only on that left leg and experienced no pain.

“It felt great,” Nash said. “Not being able to do something you love is tough, especially not being around the team too much, it’s hard, but today was a great day … It was a good day today to get back out there and kind of get a stride going.

“You guys saw it,” he added. “I didn’t do anything too crazy or stops and starts or anything, so it’s gonna be a bit of a process to get my legs back, get my wind back, get my timing back, and the big thing now is hopefully there are no setbacks … (But) today was a great step, skating and not feeling what I felt last time.’

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Rick Nash has been down and out for the Blueshirts since suffering leg injury in January.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rick Nash has been down and out for the Blueshirts since suffering leg injury in January.

At this rate, Nash could resume playing during the Rangers’ California trip from March 14-19.

Nash’s return will give Alain Vigneault plenty of “options,” especially with trade deadline acquisition Eric Staal added to the fold. But it also will challenge the coach to find effective combinations without compromising the second-seeded Blueshirts (37-20-6, 80 points) and their recent success.

LEONARD: RANGERS KEEP IT STAAL IN THE FAMILY

The Rangers entered Thursday night’s visit to the second wild-card Penguins (32-22-8, 72 points) with a 10-2-1 record in their last 13 games, an 11-4-1 record in 15 straight games without Nash, and an 18-8-2 mark since Dec. 22.

Fortunately, Nash has plenty of history as Staal’s teammate – including on the 2010 gold medal Canadian Olympic team – and the big line of Nash, Staal and Kevin Hayes that Vigneault brainstormed after Wednesday’s practice in Greenburgh may get a look after all.

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“I think (Staal and I) might have played one game together. We shuffled the lines each game I think until we went into the elimination rounds,” Nash said of the 2010 Olympics. “But I’ve known him. We played under-17 together. We played under-18 together, (in) tons of camps, world junior camps. So I’ve known him pretty well. He’s a great guy in the room.

“You look how (alternate captain) Marc (Staal) kind of controls the room with his personality, and Eric’s the same type of guy,” added Nash, a more reserved leader. “They’re great guys for in the dressing room. On the ice, I’ve competed against him a bunch. He’s big, he’s strong, he can score goals. He’s a great faceoff guy. He’s a guy you love to have on your team.”

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