By Sean Hartnett
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Analytics can track just about everything in hockey, but the one thing that cannot be measured through the explosion of statistical thinking is resiliency.
Rangers winger Tanner Glass has never possessed breakaway speed or a sniper’s accuracy, yet he’s made a habit of forcing his way into NHL lineups ahead of highly skilled youngsters.
Glass entered Wednesday’s playoff series opener against the Montreal Canadiens with one goal to his name in 60 career postseason games. Conventional wisdom, and traditional and advanced statistics all pointed to Glass having a slim probability of creating offense.
So much for the numbers.
Glass went full bore to win 50-50 pucks throughout the night and scored the game-winning goal in the Rangers’ 2-0 victory.
The Canadiens started the game with suffocating defense and territorial dominance. Montreal finished the first period with a 16-5 shots on goal advantage, yet came away frustrated. Henrik Lundqvist put on a clinic and the lone first-period goal came from an unlikely source.
Off an offensive zone faceoff, Glass jumped on a loose puck and backhanded a high shot over Carey Price’s glove hand. Bell Centre was stunned and the Rangers’ bench erupted. Practically everyone not named Alain Vigneault would have opted to dress youngster Pavel Buchnevich over Glass. Buchnevich and fellow Game 1 healthy scratches Matt Puempel and Brandon Pirri each have offensive track records that easily trump Glass, but Vigneault went with his gut and it paid off.
Glass began the second period creating screens to take away Price’s vision. His physical edge and active stick harassed the Canadiens into turnovers. He made quick-thinking, simple plays to get teammates the puck and was unlucky not to add a second goal through his frequent net-front presence. The Rangers held the Habs without a shot on goal through the first 10 minutes of the second period because all four lines were firing. Yet it was the fourth line of Glass, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast that made the biggest impact.
Rick Nash and Chris Kreider were impressive on both ends of the rink. Alternate captain Dan Girardi took all the right angles to shut down the Canadiens on the defensive end. He was physically engaged, tying Fast for a team-high five hits. Girardi also had a game-high four blocked shots.
Michael Grabner went on to seal the victory with an empty-net goal and, of course, Lundqvist was totally locked in throughout the 31-save performance.
But Glass’ goal stole the momentum from the Canadiens and set the series opener on a totally different course. His road to appearing in 572 combined regular season and playoff games (and counting) has been paved through a sheer desire to exceed expectations. Vigneault was caught by surprise when he observed Glass during the Vancouver Canucks’ 2009 training camp. Since that time, AV has been a staunch believer in Glass and his collection of team-first intangibles.
At that point in his career, Glass had been coming off a season-ending injury that limited him to three NHL games in his final season with the Florida Panthers. A window of opportunity opened when Jannik Hansen broke three fingers in a preseason fight. Glass survived cut downs as the 13th forward on Vancouver’s roster and became an ever-present figure in Vigneault’s lineup, eventually dressing for 20 playoff games as the Canucks marched to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“When he came to us in Vancouver, he wasn’t on anybody’s chart,” Vigneault said of Glass during Rangers camp in 2014. “He’s a guy that we had signed as a depth player on a two-way contract. He came to camp, and through him being who he is as a hard worker, battled every practice. He just made his way, caught everybody’s attention and made our team.”
When the 33-year-old winger entered this season’s camp, he would eventually be the odd-man out when the Rangers made their final cuts. The Craven, Saskatchewan native passed through waivers on Oct. 8 and was assigned to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. Thus began his long journey back.
It took 57 games in the minors before Glass was recalled by the Rangers on March 5. Just like when he earned his chance with the Canucks in 2009, the injury pileup the Blueshirts were experiencing opened the door. Glass kept his game simple and never really had a misstep in the 11 games following his recall. He wasn’t productive in the traditional sense, producing just a goal and an assist in 120 minutes, but there wasn’t anything risky or negative about his game.
Vigneault has always preached a mantra that doesn’t differentiate from player to player. He had the Rangers wear t-shirts during his first training camp in 2013 bearing the slogan “clean slate — grab it!” There’s a lot of history and a lot of numbers that work against Glass’ case, but all the statistics reset to zero once the playoffs begin and Vigneault trusted the winger he dressed for four Stanley Cup Final games in 2011.
“Let’s go out there and have some fun,” Vigneault said recently. “Everybody has a clean slate and a great opportunity in front of them to make a difference and an impact in the playoffs.”
And that’s precisely what Glass did in Game 1 on Wednesday. He made a major impact. When I first met him at MSG Training Center in the summer of 2014, I pulled him aside and asked how he was going to win over skeptical fans who doubted his value before he even skated for the Rangers in a preseason game.
“My role hasn’t changed in seven years as a pro,” Glass replied at the time. “It’s to be physical and be tough to play against up and down the wall, and to be a good teammate. When I start deviating from my game is when I get in trouble. Playing within myself and within my game is what I’m good at. My role isn’t a tough one to figure out. It’s to be good at the little things.”
Every professional hockey player has the power to change a narrative and a perception until they hang up the skates or their jersey is taken away from them. Glass is clinging tight to his No. 15 Rangers sweater and clearly will move mountains to prove he belongs.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey