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Hartnett: Indispensable Brian Boyle Is Key To Rangers’ Playoff Progress

Brian Boyle (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Brian Boyle (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Standing at 6-foot-7, Brian Boyle is the tallest member of the Rangers, and the towering forward’s value to the Blueshirts is immeasurable. He may not possess the star qualities of Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh or Martin St. Louis, but take him away from the equation and the Rangers’ formula would be broken.

There’s not much flash to Boyle’s game. The 29-year-old’s value is based on what head coach Alain Vigneault calls “hard minutes” against opponent’s top lines both in even-strength and penalty killing situations.

“So far, he’s had an impact and had a big contribution in the playoff games,” Vigneault said. “We need him to continue to do that, he’s a big body. He brings a physical dimension to the game that our team needs. He’s very good on the penalty killing. He’s always on the first unit that I throw out there. So we need that from him.”

Vigneault has handed Boyle the toughest assignments throughout the regular season and into playoffs — and he’s acing his tests.

The Flyers’ top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds has gone quiet when matched up against the Boyle-Moore-Dorsett line in even strength, and when Boyle centers the Blueshirts’ top penalty killing unit. Through three games, the trio has only combined for one goal — and that was an empty-netter in Game 2.

In Game 3, the Flyers’ power play was neutralized and finished 0 for 5. That’s not an easy accomplishment considering that Simmonds ranked third overall during the regular season with 15 power play goals and Giroux’s 37 power play points was fourth overall. Giroux is unquestionably one of the league’s elite players. The 26-year-old Flyers captain finished the regular season with 28 goals and ranked third in the NHL with 86 points. Through three playoff games against the Rangers, the frustration is evident in the body language of Giroux and his linemates.

Although Boyle is a former first-round draft pick, he has underrated, lunch-pail qualities. He clogs lanes, he blocks shots, he wins physical battles along the walls and throws his share of monster hits. Through three games this series, Boyle has registered 15 hits. Five per game. He has also taken away the puck from the Flyers on five occasions this series, while not giving it away once.

Linemate Dominic Moore recognizes that all the little things Boyle does amounts to something huge, especially during the playoffs.

“Boyler is a guy who does the little things well,” Moore said. “I obviously appreciate a guy who plays like him. He’s great at winning face-offs, blocking shots, doing little things well. It counts for a lot this time of year.”

Moore believes that the playoffs have been shedding light on Boyle’s importance to the Blueshirts’ cause.

“He does these little things all year long,” Moore said. “Then, when it’s the playoffs, you notice how important they are. That’s the kind of player he is.”

‘PLAYOFF TIME IS LIKE NO OTHER’

The buzz around New York City fuels Boyle’s competitive fire. As the playoffs move along, Boyle notices the attention of the city shifting toward the Rangers.

“Playoff time is like no other,” Boyle said. “Especially the farther you go. To be part of the buzz of the city is pretty cool. When you start doing well, everyone is talking about it. It’s just something different.”

Boyle grew up in Hingham, M.A. The suburban, South Shore town is only a thirty minute drive from Boston, where Boyle watched the Bruins at the legendary Boston Garden and its modern replacement, the TD Garden. He knows all about what it means to play for an “Original Six” team in the Rangers.

“I grew up in an ‘Original Six’ town,” Boyle said. “I’m definitely happy to be here and still playing. Everyone gets excited when they come here. Whether it’s an opponent, or if you get traded here or sign here — It’s exciting stuff.”

Vigneault is only into his first season as head coach of the Rangers. He’s already recognized how much Boyle appreciates being a Ranger and how his desperation succeed for the organization rubs off on younger players.

“He definitely has an impact on our dressing room,” Vigneault said. “He’s been here a long time. He knows the culture of the New York Rangers. He wants to be here. So he’s a big part of our team.”

In 2010, a trade with the Los Angeles Kings sent Boyle from the West Coast to the East Coast. Since then, he’s certainly made plenty of friends in the Rangers’ locker room. Actually, it’s impossible to find a teammate who doesn’t appreciate Boyle’s commitment to the game, leadership qualities and humor (he’s known to quote quite a few movies).

When Boyle walks toward Madison Square Garden and through its corridors, he recognizes the familiar faces of fans. He’s met families who have passed down the traditions of what it means to be a Rangers fan from one generation to the next.

“That’s whats cool to be part of a team that’s been around so long,” Boyle said. “There’s second, third, fourth generation Rangers fans. I’ve seen them at season ticket holder events and things. It’s great. We see them in the hallways here.”

Boyle truly appreciates this moment in his career. He’s desperate to bring success to his teammates, himself and his adopted city.

All that drive and determination is yet to result in a Stanley Cup championship during Boyle’s half-decade stay in the Big Apple. He’s had a number of unforgettable memories, but the disappointment of close calls and not reaching the Stanley Cup Finals continues to be his greatest motivating factor.

“I have a lot of fond memories,” Boyle said. “Except we haven’t gone as far as we’ve wanted to. I have some good memories, but they usually end early.”

30 TEAMS WOULD WANT BOYLE SHOULD HE BECOME A FREE AGENT

As the Rangers prepared for Game 4, Boyle made it clear that he’s not distracted by his future. Boyle’s contract is set to expire in the summer and unrestricted free agency is a real possibility.

“I’m not thinking of that,” Boyle said. “It is what it is right now.”

It’s hard to imagine Boyle wearing another uniform. Yet, anything is possible in a year when the Rangers could not agree an extension with former captain Ryan Callahan, who ended up being shipped out of town hours before the March 5 trade deadline.

At a current salary of $1.7 million, Boyle is one of the ultimate bargain players in the NHL. That number will certainly rise in the summer.

When the Red Wings were in town on October 26, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock went out of his way to praise Boyle.

“Boyle always impresses me,” Babcock said. “He came to New York and became a good player.”

There are 30 teams in this league that would be desperate to plug Boyle on their third or fourth line. Boyle mastery of his checking line and penalty kill roles isn’t a secret around the NHL. Coaches and executives around the league understand exactly how valuable Boyle is to the Rangers.

Of course, one those coaches is Vigneault and one of those executives is Rangers general manager Glen Sather. It’s abundantly clear that the Rangers value Boyle highly, given Vigneault’s effusive praise of Boyle’s abilities and Sather keeping him around after the recent trade deadlines.

For now, Boyle is just enjoying the ride of another playoffs in New York. It remains to be seen whether this will be his last ride with the Rangers, or whether he will continue to call Manhattan his home beyond the 2014 playoffs.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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