Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kreider and The King – Rangers beat Caps

Are you kidding me?

I mean, we had pleasant thoughts that Chris Kreider would SOME DAY become the kind of Ranger that would be a top forward on the team

We hoped that Chris Kreider would SOME DAY become the kind of Ranger that would get a pair of game winning goals in the playoffs.

We dreamed that Chris Kreider would SOME DAY become the kind of Ranger that could take over a playoff series and outshine Gaborik, Richards, Callahan, Dubinsky and the rest.

But immediately? In his first 6 games as an NHL player? You have got to be freakin' kidding me.

The NHL season is a marathon. Some players hit the wall at the 20 mile mark – (where are you now Crosby, Malkin, Chara, Spezza, and everyone on Vancouver) and fade away. Well, the Rangers have taken a 20 year old budding superstar, spared him the rigors of the 7+ month regular season, and launched him into the playoffs – refreshed – pumped – confident from an NCAA championship – and jump-started him in mile 25 of a 26 mile race.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying – the kid played good (and well!) in game one:

After a scoreless first period – the Rangers were whistled for penalties to both Staal (holding), and Prust (boarding – a much more manly penalty) and the Caps had a 5 on 3 in the second. Our heroes and Hank weathered the Washington storm and grabbed momentum.

And then – soon after the Ranger Scoreboard showed a live shot of Stepan Matteau who was on hand – Artem Anisimov was behind the Capital net and figured he'd try a little playoff wraparound of his own.

It worked – and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead.

But then – catastrophe: Derek Stepan shot and missed an 11 footer at 19:52. And the puck caromed. Brooks Laich got control and sped a perfect pass to Jason Chimera who – incredibly - Beat Henrik Lundqvist to tie the score at 19:56.

19:56. That's four seconds after a shot by Stepan at the other send of the ice. Four Seconds.

A horrendous turn of events. A classic momentum swing. A massive chunk of misfortune that could traumatize lesser teams, devastate lesser men.

But not our Rangers. These men are tough – and they are led by a warrior in John Tortorella. A lunatic, sure, but a warrior.

And so our guys came out of the tunnel for period three pumped up and ready to go. Derek Stepan – who has played a role in a series of Ranger goals these last few key games, got the puck to Chris Kreider and the rookie was streaking alone in the offensive zone. (“Streaking” as in “moving fast” - he kept his red pants on at all times).

Kreider told reporters later that he pulled up and shot because he was “too tired” to take the puck to the

net – so he shot it in the net instead. But as Braden Holtby hugged the right post – the Ranger Rookie rifled the puck to the Cap's Goalie's left side – finding net and putting the Rangers up 2-1.

And then – just 90 seconds later – Gaborik found Kreider who made a perfect pass to get Richards a path to the Capital's goal. Richards closed in on Holtby from his right as Gaborik cut to the front of the net. The movement attracted the Cap's goalie's attention, and the second he turned his head Richard shot – perfectly – from close in – and the Rangers had their insurance goal.

And that's how it ended – 3-1 Rangers. Only the Rangers 2nd playoff win in 9 tries over the past three seasons.

The other part of this story is – of course – the King in the Ranger goal and the crushing defense in front of him against the Capitals.

Only 18 shots made it through to Henrik – and the Ranger's best player stopped all but one of them for a .944 save percentage. In contrast, Holtby had a terrible game, making only 14 saves, logging a terrible .786 save percentage, and wasting a fine defensive effort by his teammates.

So, Chris Kreider ended up with a goal on a single shot, an assist, and the star-of-the-game honors.

Goals for Anisimov and Richards. And assists for Fedotenko, Gaborik, and Stepan. Ovechkin was held to a single shot on goal.

And so our Rangers are now just 11 wins from a Stanley Cup Championship. They've won 3 straight playoff games. And Chris Kreider – who celebrates his 21st birthday Monday – seems to have suddenly turned into exactly what we hoped he would someday be. But he's done it a whole lot sooner than any of us thought was possible.

Let's Go Rangers.

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