‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Only the strong survive in the NHL playoffs. It’s the pressured stage where some wilt and others step up and flourish.

Brian Boyle entered the playoffs on a hot streak and has raised his game toward new heights under the spotlight. He immediately became ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ to the Senators and their fans after he roughed up Erik Karlsson in Game 1.

He was painted as a John Dillinger-like figure, an outlaw in the eyes of ‘Sens Army’ as his popularity among Rangers fans took a meteoric rise after he dominated Game 1. Boyle was everywhere on the ice and scored the eventual game-winning goal when he won a loose puck and roofed a high-shot past Craig Anderson.

Boyle threw his weight around like a mid-1990’s Eric Lindros, becoming an unstoppable freight train of destruction and crushing every Senator in his path.

The Senators employed frontier justice in an attempt to neutralize Boyle in Game 2. Matt Carkner left his position to sucker-punch an unsuspecting Boyle who then laid defenseless on the ice as Carkner reigned five blows upon him.

Still, Boyle persevered and delivered a third period goal though the Rangers would  go on to lose Game 2 in overtime.

On Monday night, Boyle entered the belly of the best. Scotiabank Place jeered him whenever he touched the puck. It wouldn’t have surprised me if wanted posters bearing Boyle’s face were distributed throughout Elgin Street and the entire city of Ottawa.

“If I’m the villain to them, that’s good,” Boyle later told reporters post-game.

Boyle again scored the game-winner in Game 3 as he hung around the Senators’ net and lifted a back-hander past Craig Anderson.

Boyle came close to scoring on another occasion later in the third period when he lifted the puck down ice and rushed toward Ottawa’s net on a breakaway. Had he not been hacked by Senators’ defenseman Chris Phillips, Boyle might have scored his second goal of the night.

On his next shift, Boyle sprung Ryan Callahan with a long-distance tape-to-tape pass that crossed three lines. Anderson though, was up to the task.

Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella spoke to the media following Monday’s thrilling 1-0 Game 3 victory.

“He’s playing the right way. I think a lot of us can follow in his lead. That’s what he’s doing right now, he’s leading,” Tortorella stated during his post-game press conference.

The bitterness of Game 2 appeared to fuel Boyle’s fire going into Game 3. Both the hostile atmosphere at Scotiabank Place and the need for vengeance following Game 2 ignited Boyle as he’s continued to raise his game.

Once praised for his excellence on the penalty kill, overall physical strength and his ability to win face-offs, Boyle has now scored in every playoff game and contributed 8 goals in his last 12 combined regular season and playoff games.

Written on the the dry-erase board in the Rangers’ away locker room before Game 3 was a quote from Mark Messier: “Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the action in the face of fear.”

Boyle is now playing without any fear.

No longer is Boyle an underrated component of the Rangers. Tortorella pushed him all season long to find his best game. You heard Tortorella recognize Boyle for taking responsibility and becoming a leader.

Now, Boyle’s become the central figure of a ‘blood feud’ series between the Rangers and Senators.

Is Boyle playing the best hockey of his career and becoming an inspirational figure for the Rangers?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.