‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Take one look into Martin St. Louis’ eyes and you’ll observe everything you need to know about the man. St. Louis’ eyes burn with an impassioned fire similar to the legendary Maurice Richard.
St. Louis is a throwback to legends of past hockey lore. He treats every game with complete seriousness, and the intensity comes steaming out of every pore when he’s on the ice. His devotion and dedication to his sport is unparallelled as evidenced by his superhuman offseason workouts.
In his first playoff series as a Ranger, St. Louis has been an absolute game-changer for a team that required someone of St. Louis’ ilk to lift it toward greater things. Through five playoff games against the Flyers, St. Louis has scored two goals and tallied four assists for six points.
On Sunday, the Rangers were able to win Game 5 by a score of 4-2 to gain a 3-2 series advantage over the Flyers — and St. Louis was everywhere from start to finish. He patiently carries the puck into the offensive zone, intelligently pulling defenders with him to create open space for teammates. And his legs are constantly churning as he chases back to harass puck carriers and break up plays.
St. Louis has always produced under the intense playoff spotlight. In 68 playoff games, St. Louis has registered an incredible 74 points. His ability to read the game is an in-born quality that cannot be taught. St. Louis assisted alternate captain Marc Staal’s Game 5 opening goal with a clever drop pass.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Staal said. “He’s so patient with the puck and confident going across that line. He’s so patient that he can suck two or three guys over to him. It creates space for everyone else. He’s been great in all areas.”
St. Louis’ rare combination of intelligence, patience and inner drive to go along with his darting speed is what makes him a totally unique player. He’s constantly pushing himself and his teammates to find a higher level.
“As you go through a series, you have to keep elevating your game because the other side will,” St. Louis said. “I thought today we did that, and we got rewarded for that.”
Remember all the furor over the Ryan Callahan-St. Louis trade? Seems pretty silly now.
HEALTHY THIS TIME AROUND, STAAL HAS BEEN A HUGE DIFFERENCE-MAKER FOR THE RANGERS
Staal was only able to play in one game last playoffs due to lingering symptoms stemming from a serious eye injury.
With Staal fully healthy this time around and mistake-free veteran Kevin Klein added to the mix, the Rangers boast three rock-solid defensive pairings in Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, Staal-Anton Stralman and John Moore-Klein.
Staal won’t score many goals during these playoffs, but he is the definition of a shutdown defenseman due to his tremendous reach and ability to win one-on-one battles along the boards.
As a whole, the Rangers were importantly able to frustrate two early first-period power plays.
“I thought that was real important for us, and we got a little bit of momentum off of that,” head coach Alain Vigneault said of the importance of killing the early penalties.
DOM MOORE AND FOURTH LINE DEMONSTRATES THE DEPTH DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RANGERS AND FLYERS
The Rangers have four lines that are able to control the puck and execute Vigneault’s uptempo system. When you look down the Flyers’ roster, there’s a lot of holes. Philly’s depth just takes a nosedive. It all drops off after the second line. The Flyers remain overly reliant on stars Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Vincent Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds.
Just take a peek at the Rangers’ fourth line of Brian Boyle-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett versus the Flyers’ fourth line of Zac Rinaldo-Michael Raffl-Adam Hall. That tells you everything you need to know about these two teams.
Dominic Moore also exposed the Flyers’ weakness in blue-line depth late in the second period, as he pounced upon a loose puck as Hal Gill struggled to control the puck. Moore alertly won the puck and shot past Mason to increase the Rangers’ lead to 3-0. At 39, the 6-foot-7, 243-pound Gill has never possessed much athleticism, and has a tendency to get beat along the outside. He’s the lumbering, aging dinosaur that is being run out of the modern game.
For Moore, it was his second goal in consecutive games. He would later add an assist on Boyle’s empty-netter to complete a two-point afternoon.
After scoring, Moore launched himself into an ecstatic bear-hug celebration, driving Boyle onto the ice.
“He was pretty excited, huh?” Boyle said. “It didn’t feel good.”
Boyle went on to describe his close relationship with his line mate.
“We’re happy for him, obviously,” Boyle said. “I’ve gotten really close with Dom. We’ve talked a lot about our games and what we’re doing on the ice and off the ice. Just to see how hard he’s worked, and how much he’s come through for us, and what big part of the team he’s been — it’s just huge. That goal was enormous for us.”
MILLER EARNS A POINT IN PLAYOFF DEBUT
Ahead of Game 5, Vigneault opted to remove Dan Carcillo from the Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards line and handed 21-year-old forward J.T. Miller his playoff debut. Miller had a positive impact beginning with his early shifts and was able to register the primary assist on Richards’ second-period goal.
Miller had previously been called out by Vigneault during the regular season. The Rangers’ head coach stated that Miller needed to improve his commitment.
“There needs to be more commitment on his part, both on and off the ice,” Vigneault said on April 3. “Until there is, he just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis.”
Following these criticisms, Vigneault clarified that his comments could have been about any player of Miller’s age.
After Game 5, Vigneault said that “J.T. brings a higher skill level and protects the puck a little bit better” when compared to Carcillo.
“I thought he played well,” Vigneault said. “Brought us a good skill level, made some good plays. I was just thinking that he might be able to help us out. I thought he did a good job today.”
RICHARDS ON MILLER: ‘HE’S FEARLESS’
Richards was impressed by Miller’s contributions in Game 5 and described Miller’s mental approach as “fearless.”
“I thought he was great,” Richards said. “He had a lot of energy, he held onto pucks, he made plays. He’s fearless. He’s got that type of mentality that you kind of predict it wasn’t going to overwhelm him because he’s that type of character. So, good first game in the playoffs for him to jump in and play big minutes and play an important role.”
Miller admitted that he needed to calm himself down due to pregame anxiety.
“I was anxious,” Miller said. “Not as much nervous as anxious. My heart rate was up and I was just trying to calm myself down throughout the game, especially at the start.”
As long as Miller can play intelligently and keep defensive blemishes to a minimum, he should be able to keep his place in the Rangers’ lineup. On Sunday, Miller was more aware in the defensive end and seemed to strike up better chemistry with Richards than Carcillo or Jesper Fast was able to earlier this series.
BOYLE: ‘THE HARDEST THING TO DO IS TO END A TEAM’S SEASON’
With the series shifting to Philadelphia, the Rangers have the opportunity to eliminate the Flyers in their own building. Boyle knows that won’t be an easy task.
“The hardest thing to do is to end a team’s season,” Boyle said. “We just have to prepare and get ready to play. That’s the battle.”
Boyle added that the Flyers are capable of “striking quick.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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