Kreider Keeps Rangers Alive

It has certainly been a star-crossed season for Chris Kreider in many ways, but any disappointments he may have had, or the parent New York Rangers may have had in him, were at least temporarily washed away Thursday, when Kreider’s first career pro overtime goal gave the Rangers a 4-3 win in a do-or-die Game Four against the Boston Bruins.

After his strong playoff for New York last year coming off of a national title with Boston College, much was expected of Kreider this season.  Those expectations seemed to weigh heavily on him, and much of his NHL lockout tenure with the Whale was a struggle.  By the time the lockout was settled, Kreider’s AHL numbers showed five goals and seven assists for 12 points, along with 55 penalty minutes and a -6, in 33 games.  Hardly eye-popping stats, and he appeared to be battling a significant lack of confidence.

Kreider Action Shot

Chris Kreider in action with the Whale

When the lockout ended and Kreider got a look in New York, his impact was negligible, and a Ranger club pressured by the lack of wiggle room in the shortened season could not give him much latitude to figure out his game.  At times, it looked like this was going to be a lost year for the 2009 Ranger first-round pick and two-time NCAA champ.

Kreider started to get things going during his last stint with the Whale, though, scoring seven goals and adding four assists for 11 points in his last 14 AHL games, good for second on the club in goals over that span.  He was called up for good two games before the end of the Whale’s season and played in the Rangers’ last six regular-season contests, and has now dressed for six straight playoff games, after sitting out Games Two through Five of the Washington series.

Kreider got a big break, too, on Thursday, in that, after having been on the fourth line with Brad Richards and Arron Asham, he was moved on to a line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard when both Richards and Asham were scratched.  With the promotion, Kreider played 13:50 in Game Four, a playoff high for him in ice time.

The OT winner Thursday was the kind of play on which, if Kreider makes it on a consistent basis, he will, I think, fill the net with goals.  After dishing the puck to Nash on the right side, Kreider busted through the neutral zone and, upon entering the Boston end, headed straight and hard towards the net.  He got solid position on a big, long-reach defenseman in Dougie Hamilton, and perfectly deflected Nash’s pass from off the boards in behind Bruin goaltender Tuukka Rask.

With Kreider being 6-3 and almost 230 pounds, and with the way he skates, there is almost no defense for that.

When asked about the play by the media after the game, Kreider, who, despite his first-rounder/top prospect pedigree, was resolutely humble in everything he said this year, gave all the credit for the winning goal to his veteran linemate.

“He (Nash) just laid it on my (stick) tape,” Kreider said. “I could probably close my eyes and he probably would have found my tape and somehow managed to put it in the back of the net.”

Kreider’s had this to say about the feeling of scoring a goal that kept his team’s season alive, “It is so surreal. It’s not something that can really be explained. It’s something that just has to be felt, but it was awesome and I’m just excited to give these guys an opportunity to play another game.”

That will be Saturday, when the series shifts back to Boston for a 5:30 PM faceoff in Game Five.

Connecticut fans also got to see Kris Newbury back on the ice for the Rangers in Game Four, and the other forward inserted into the big club’s lineup was fellow callup Micheal Haley, who made his NHL playoff debut.  Newbury, who played 8:03 in the game, had a key blocked shot, and he and Haley (7:56) both got out for a shift in overtime with Derek Dorsett.  That threesome constituted the Rangers’ new fourth line, and figures to again in Game Five.

Meanwhile, the Conference Finals are set to get underway in the AHL, with the Western Conference Final between Oklahoma City and Grand Rapids starting tonight in Grand Rapids.  The Eastern Conference final starts Saturday night, and that matches Syracuse against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, after the Penguins became only the third team in AHL history to win a series after losing the first three games, taking the final four of their series with the regular-season league champion Providence Bruins.  That feat was last accomplished by the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings, who lost the first three games of that year’s Eastern Conference Finals to John Paddock and the Hershey Bears before storming back to win four straight. 

Your faithful correspondent, who just finished his 25th year as an AHL broadcaster, was a rookie behind the mike for the eventual Calder Cup-champion Red Wings that season.




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