‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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At the start of every NHL season, there is a question always asked of Stanley Cup contenders. Does this team have the right mix of youth and experience?
Deep into the 2012 playoffs, the New York Rangers have proven poise and composure are equally important as ten years of experience. They’re a mostly youthful roster but despite their inexperience, they’re able to knuckle down when the pressure is at its highest.
At 30, Henrik Lundqvist is actually one of the oldest Rangers but is taking part in his first career conference final.
As the second period of Game 3 got underway, Lundqvist was faced with the prospect of stopping an Ilya Kovalchuk breakaway. The Swede responded by pulling off a sprawling glove save. It was a sign of things to come as Kovalchuk and Lundqvist dueled all afternoon as Lundqvist emerged the victor as he preserved the Rangers’ 3-0 shutout.
During his post-game media session, I asked Lundqvist how he’s able to keep his mentality when one of the league’s foremost snipers is bearing down upon him like a powerful, speeding train.
“Every time you face players like that, you just try to be patient and wait for him to make the first move, and he had a couple of big chances. I was a little lucky today, a couple times where I made the first move I still ended up making the save. That’s not going to happen all the time,” Lundqvist replied.
He continued, “You need some luck sometimes. I always say you earn your luck by working hard, but today was a good day. We didn’t play our best the first half, but we still had a scoreless game. Then we picked up our game and I thought we played really well the second half.”
Lundqvist is undoubtedly the biggest key to the Rangers’ playoff fortunes but they’re a team defined by the sum of their parts. As Lundqvist said, the Rangers picked up their game in the second half. They tightened the screws defensively and were patient enough to find all their goals in the third period after the Devils dominated play during the opening two periods.
Chris Kreider’s goal came less than two minutes after Dan Girardi’s go-ahead goal. It seemed Kreider was bound to score based upon his impact in the offensive zone during the first two periods. His intelligent positioning and awareness led to his deflected goal that took the wind out of the Devils’ sails. John Tortorella spoke about Kreider during his post-game press conference.
“The puck follows him around. He has a ways to go away from the puck, but he has a knack with that puck. We needed him to be better defensively, but we felt he had the best chance to score the goal. It’s pretty exciting to see what he’s doing as a kid coming right out of college,” Tortorella explained.
Age isn’t an ideal barometer to judge the Blueshirts. Their success isn’t about a veteran pulling the group together or a rookie coming in and giving them a spark. While Brad Richards and the aforementioned Kreider provide examples of both of an unflappable veteran and a dazzling rookie, the Rangers aren’t defined by typical hockey stereotypes.
Kreider and Hagelin have wove themselves into the Rangers’ fabric because they’re uncommon rookies who can handle the responsibilities that Tortorella places upon them.
Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t view Kreider with the label of a rookie. He simply views Kreider as a player who has the right kind of attributes that fit into the Rangers’ puzzle. I asked Lundqvist how much he can lean on the young, but composed Kreider.
“Everybody’s here for a reason,” Lundqvist said post-game. “They’re not here because we think a guy’s going to be good in the next year or two years. He’s here and playing because he’s good right now. So if you’re playing you expect everyone to do their job, and I don’t think about age or how many games they played. He’s done a great job, though. I’m really happy the way he came in and fit into the group and adjusted his game. So he should have a lot of credit.”
Lundqvist holds Kreider to the same standard as any of his teammates no matter how young or old. “I’m not going to give him any slack because he’s young and hasn’t played that much. He’s here because he can play here,” he stated.
I spoke with Ryan Callahan after Game 3. Callahan sees Kreider as a difference-maker for the Rangers from the moment he pulled on the famous blue, red and white sweater.
“He’s fit right in. He doesn’t look like a rookie out there. Right from day one, he’s jumped in and made a difference. It’s big this time of year. You need fresh legs, fresh guys. He brings energy into the game and into the room,” Callahan replied.
Carl Hagelin knows exactly what Kreider is going through as he’s learning the ropes of NHL life. Like Hagelin, Kreider has understood the pressures of the NHL quicker than most, but being among a group of mature pros rubs off well on these rookies.
Hagelin explained, “Every guy in this team fits in the way they should fit in. I think there’s a great group of leaders in this team that respect everyone and it’s easy being a rookie here.”
Do the Rangers have the right mix needed to get past the more experienced Devils? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.