By Sean Hartnett
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No fourth liner’s merits have attracted more debate than Rangers winger Tanner Glass.
Fans who love old-time hockey appreciate the 33-year-old’s hardnose style of play and willingness to exchange fists. Everything that Glass does on the ice is channeled through a team-first mantra. He’ll do anything for a teammate and that’s why he’s a beloved figure in the Rangers’ dressing room.
On the other side, the advanced stats community has made compelling and logical arguments against the usage of forwards with limited offensive skill sets and values mostly comprised of agitating and pugilistic qualities.
And that’s true. You need to be more than an enforcer to provide enough value to stay in the lineup and remain in the NHL. The Glass of last season was ineffective and possession deficient. He ran around the ice like a wild man, recklessly trying to hit anything that moved. But the Glass of this season rarely put a skate wrong during an 11-game cameo at the tail end of the regular season. His game was more refined, simplified and effective. He deservingly earned back his place with the Blueshirts ahead of the playoffs after spending 57 games with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
“It has been a trying year to say the least, but I kept faith in myself and my family has been huge for me,” Glass said. “It’s a good support system down there. I believed I could play at this level and it’s nice for me to be here right now.”
The way Glass is playing now should end all debates. He’s not only providing physicality to wear down the opposition, he’s chipping in his fair share of points. He has one goal and three assists in five playoff games, while averaging just 9:40 of ice time. His 0.80 points per game is even with Ottawa Senators stars Erik Karlsson, Derick Brassard and Bobby Ryan. Among skaters to play more than two playoff games, Glass’ 4.96 points per 60 minutes only trails Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin.
“He’s a true professional the way he trained, the way he prepared for every game and he comes ready to play every game,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Glass. “That’s what I love about his game and how hard he works every night. He’s making some great plays right now. He’s giving us a lot of energy and it’s great for the group and a lot of credit to him.”
The rugged winger took center stage in Game 4 against the Senators at Madison Square Garden, perhaps putting forth the finest display of his decade-long NHL career in helping the Rangers secure a 4-1 victory to draw even a series featuring games becoming increasingly one-sided in the Blueshirts’ favor.
Glass finished the night with two assists, the first multi-point playoff game of his career. The 213-pound forward registered a game-high seven hits and used his body to screen Senators starting goalie goaltender Craig Anderson and third-period replacement Mike Condon. On linemate Oscar Lindberg’s second goal, Glass chipped the puck into the corner before using his strength to outmuscle defenseman Cody Ceci and keep the play alive. Then, his traffic in front of net appeared to distract Anderson.
“Look at these assists,” Glass said. “They are not exactly playmaking assists. They are just kind of the gritty, grinding game I bring. Sometimes it ends up in the back of the net. Like (head coach Alain Vigneault) said, he knows what to expect from me when I’m out there. I know the message is pretty clear. He wants me to be physical. It’s my kind of play, it’s straight lines, it’s north-south.
“Those are my skills,” he added. “That’s what I bring. It’s forechecking, it’s reading a play, it’s finding where the puck is going next and then separating the guy from the puck. I’m trying to be tough to play against.”
Glass did an excellent job retrieving the puck on the forecheck and he took every chance he could to lay an extra hit on a Senator.
“That’s playoffs,” Glass said. “It’s a war of attrition. It’s seven games against the same team. Every bump counts. It’s like making deposits in the bank. You put enough in one day, you’re going to be happy with what’s in there and you take it out at the end.”
Depth is the key this time of year. The Rangers’ bottom-six forwards have accounted for 11 points over their past two games. On Thursday, their bottom-six forwards recorded seven points. As any player or coach will tell you, it takes productivity from all over to contend for hockey’s ultimate prize.
“You look at teams that win the Stanley Cup, they get contributions from all four lines,” Glass said. “Whether it’s offensively, penalty-killing, physical play … it’s got to be some way that you’ve got to contribute. It’s nice that we’ve been able to do it on the score sheet lately.”
The Rangers put a hurting on the Sens on the scoreboard and, as a result, the fireworks started in the final minute. Again, Glass was right in the middle of it. Ottawa center Kyle Turris tackled Glass while he was tied up with defenseman Chris Wideman. Glass got up, threw his gloves in the air and unleashed a fury of punches on Turris, who clearly bit off more than he could chew.
MSG erupted into chants of “Tan-ner, Tan-ner.” Glass skated for the dressing room and high-fived fans as he made his exit like a conquering hero. Then he delivered the quote of the night about his scrap with Turris.
“He started swinging — you mess with the bull, you get the horns,” Glass said.
The quote should serve as the team’s playoff motto, because you’ve seen the Rangers push back with an unrelenting spirit to even the series.
Incensed like an angry bull, the Blueshirts are blowing steam through their nostrils and charging the Sens down.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey