The New York Rangers were able to hold onto a one-goal lead in the final seconds of the third period to beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 and even the series at one game apiece Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers got goals from Derick Brassard, Dan Boyle and Chris Kreider, with Brassard and Kreider being the stars of the night.
In the postseason, the Rangers younger players have stepped up in the absence of Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis—who are on the ice, but are not overly productive; Nash has one goal and four assists, St. Louis has two assists. The Rangers depth has been a key to their success.
Brassard doesn’t get the attention he deserves when it comes to his offensive abilities. Most games, he is the best player on the ice for the Rangers. He centers the top line and uses his vision and passing abilities to create offensive opportunities.
He plays with passion and emotion, and is not afraid to get in the face of his opponents when he is challenged. His 202-pound frame might not hold up well against some of the big bodies in the NHL, but his wiliness to fight for himself and his teammates is something to respect.
In Game 2, Brassard’s skills came in handy as he scored what would be the game-winning goal and recorded three shots on goal. The goal came after he left the penalty box.
“I was feeling not very good, actually,” said Brassard. “But I was confident in our penalty kill. And when I came out of the penalty box I had some jump, had some energy.”
It isn’t just the points he puts up, but the opportunities he creates. Brassard’s talents, poise and puck control allow the Rangers to set the tempo of the game and sustain pressure in the offensive zone. He isn’t perfect, but he’s impactful. And if the Rangers want to go far in the playoffs, they are going to need Brassard to keep leading by example.
The progress Kreider has made in his short career is remarkable. His speed has always been his top asset, but now he is learning how to control his hits, use his body and set the tone of the game. He did so Saturday afternoon, scoring 38 seconds into the opening period.
Kreider was absolutely dangerous in Game 2. He registered three shots on goal and four hits. He created scoring opportunities, and tired out the Capitals defense with his speed.
“He’s the fastest player I’ve ever played with, by far, and I’ve played with some pretty fast players,” Boyle said. “He also might be the strongest.”
“He’s a huge difference maker. He has a huge influence on the game for us,” Ryan McDonagh said. “The way he can skate, the way he can hit and shoot, the physicality. When he’s putting all three of those together, it’s a tough combo to defend for anyone.”
Kreider still has a lot to learn, but his progress has allowed the Rangers to win games.
Stopping the Russians
Taking Game 2 was a big boost for the Rangers heading into Washington. What they need to work on next is stopping the Capitals two Russian players: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Ovechkin.
Kuznetsov, much like Kreider, has incredible speed and has been productive this postseason. In Saturday’s game, he got the Capitals on the board in the second period. It was Kuznetsov fourth goal of the postseason and he has tallied a total of five points.
Even more dangerous than him is, you guessed in Ovechkin. “All series long.” That is what Ovechkin chirped to Henrik Lundqvist in Game 1 moments after his goal. So far, he has kept to his word. Ovechkin scored his second goal in as many games and cut the Rangers lead to one late in the third period.
“Sometimes elite players make elite plays,” said Derek Stepan. “That was an elite play.”
It isn’t just that he is able to score; it is also the way that he scores that is so dangerous. I don’t know if anyone would be able to stop his shots. He hits the corners of the nets with precision and speed. You give him a step and he takes off.
The Rangers will have to do a better job against him, especially in the next two games when he will have the momentum of the crowd behind him.