Blazing Blueshirts Make Statement Against Kings In Stanley Cup Final Rematch

By Sean Hartnett
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Speed kills.

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When Alain Vigneault took over as Rangers head coach in June 2013, he installed an up-tempo system that requires quick decision-making, crisp passing and fast legs.

It appears the Rangers have perfected AV’s system after defeating two Pacific Division powerhouses in the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in consecutive nights. Neither team could handle the blazing Blueshirts.

The Rangers have now won 12 of 13 games after Thursday night’s 4-3 victory over the Kings. There were times when Staples Center fell silent aside from the chants of “Let’s Go Rangers.” After surrendering two goals in the opening six minutes, the Rangers found their legs and proceeded to dominate the defending Stanley Cup champs in a rematch of last year’s Final.

“We had trouble keeping up with a fast team,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter told reporters following the game. “The Carter line – we couldn’t handle it.”

The Rangers took total control in the second period. Kevin Klein and Lee Stempniak scored within 19 seconds of each other before the scoreboard clock read 3:00. The Kings looked uncomfortable in possession as the harassing Rangers forced the Kings into defensive breakdowns and giveaways.

New York’s power play has transformed into a weapon. The Rangers have registered a power play goal in six of seven games, clicking at 43.5 percent over that stretch. Their power play has risen to eighth overall in the NHL at 21.2 percent.

They’re executing Scott Arniel’s 1-3-1 scheme with complete confidence by constantly moving into open spaces without the puck, moving the puck quickly and firing shots with authority. Thirty-eight-year-old Dan Boyle is moving the puck with savvy and making intelligent reads. He’s completely justifying general manager Glen Sather’s decision to hand him a two-year, $9 million contract.

Sather’s recruitment of Boyle and Martin St. Louis has given the Rangers two really shrewd operators on the power play. St. Louis’ power play goal at 8:17 of the second period increased the Rangers’ lead to 4-2. St. Louis has a knack for sneaking into dangerous positions. He was unlucky not to complete a two-goal night, having Jonathan Quick beaten and ringing the post earlier in the first period.

After slipping to allow an uncontested opening goal by Tanner Pearson, Rangers alternate captain Dan Girardi rebounded to put in a great effort. Girardi finished the night with a team-leading eight hits, two shots, one assist and four blocked shots while logging 23:32 TOI.

The 23-11-4 Rangers have now won four straight games and are just four points behind the Metropolitan Divison-leading Pittsburgh Penguins with two games in hand. They will finish their three-game California swing at SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday night.

CLUTCH KLEIN COMES UP BIG

Once again Klein, A.K.A. “Mr. Clutch,” came up huge for the Blueshirts. He only needed one shot to do the damage. After Klein got the puck through traffic and evened the score at 2-2, Henrik Lundqvist stood on the bench and applauded.

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Aside from a couple of guys who’ve played less than nine games, Klein’s 18.6 shooting percentage ranks highest among NHL defensemen. Through 37 games, Klein has scored eight goals, recorded seven assists and is a robust plus-15.

His eight even-strength goals is tied for the league lead among defensemen. Klein is the only D-man to record eight goals, three game-winning goals, two overtime goals and a plus/minus of plus-15 or greater this season.

HARTNETT: ULTRA-TOUGH KLEIN HAS BEEN RANGERS’ SAVIOR

Imagine what he’d accomplish if Vigneault actually gave him a chance on the power play. Earlier this season, Lundqvist said Klein has the best shot on the team.

“I think, by far, he has the best shot on the team — no question,” Lundqvist said on Dec. 8. “He always gets it through, and it’s hard. It’s not always a great thing in practice, but I appreciate it in a game.”

It’s puzzling why Klein is glued to the bench in man-advantage situations.

BOYLE CONTINUES HOT STREAK

A broken right hand and the flu wreaked havoc on Boyle’s game earlier this season. Now healthy, Boyle is playing up to his standard as one of the league’s most gifted offensive-minded defensemen.

Boyle has collected four points in three games (making it seven points in seven games). The veteran blue liner is tied for first among NHL defensemen with five power play points since Dec. 23.

He’s been the definition of a difference-maker considering his impact on the power play and overall value to the Rangers. The Blueshirts have a 16-4-2 record in games that Boyle has dressed.

Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey.

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