'Kid' Kreider bringing Rangers goals, energy
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
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The Rangers have The King.
Now they also have The Kid.
Chris Kreider sat at his locker, a nervous grin flashing across his face and a ridiculously misshapen black fedora sitting awkwardly on his head. He was trying, in his low-talker style, to explain why he's six games into his NHL career and he's scoring gigantic goals, such as the one he rifled past Braden Holtby seven minutes into the third to snap a 1-1 tie and send the Rangers on their way to a 3-1 Game 1 win over the Caps.
"It's just hockey," he said, not even believing his words himself. "It's the same game it's always been."
Kreider, 20, acts as if he's trying not to disturb anyone with his sotto voce responses. He plays as if he's been a Ranger all his life, not just for a whopping 19 days.
It took him a few days to get adjusted, then a few games to get used to the NHL playoff pace. Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, John Tortorella could send Brendan Shanahan a nice fruit-and-cookie basket to thank the NHL's disciplinarian for suspending Carl Hagelin for three games after the opening round's Game 2, which allowed Kreider to see any playoff ice time at all, but that's for another time.
Kreider gained more confidence and more ice time in Game 6 against the Senators and scored his first goal, off a pretty feed from Derek Stepan, who is about 10 months older than he is. That one was the winner in the stay-alive Game 6 in Ottawa.
Two nights later, in a roaring Game 7 at the Garden, Kreider earned even more of Tortorella's trust and forced the turnover that became Marc Staal's opening goal. Kreider was on the ice late in that 2-1 win, turned loose to use his speed to hound opposing defensemen the way that Hagelin had since early in the regular season.
And Saturday, Kreider used that speed to skate on to a neat flick from Stepan and blast the winner past Holtby.
Two goals, two playoff game-winners in a span of six days, and then a nice feed off the side boards to Brad Richards for the clincher 90 seconds later.
"Kinda crazy," The Kid said of hearing his name chanted at a packed Garden. He's a Massachusetts kid, but anyone hearing that kind of love from 18,200 fans can call the Garden home.
Marian Gaborik is struggling to find even an ounce of room to operate, goal-less in seven straight games. Ryan Callahan is hitting every white jersey in a wide radius, but he hasn't been depositing goals with regularity either.
Opponents know the ethos of these Rangers, that they will grind you into dust and outwork you for goals. They are getting to know Kreider, who turns 21 Monday and is tied atop the playoff leader board for game-winning goals at a time of the year when winning games is the only stat that matters.
"We showed him our team concept, but then we just wanted him to go play," Tortorella said of Kreider's joining this successful team as the playoffs began. "We have some other things we want him to learn, but this isn't the time of year to do that. We want his instinctiveness, his speed . . . Forget about what he's doing on the ice. The mental part of the game, trying to make a difference on every shift, he's done that real well."
He has made a difference, quite clearly. Kreider gives the Rangers another dangerous forward, a real threat to score when their top guys are bottled up. He also has helped make Stepan, who was invisible for the first four games against the Senators, one of the Rangers' best playmakers now.
Wearing his sopping uniform and the "Broadway Hat" that the Rangers picked up in Europe nearly seven months ago to award to the team's star of the game, he endured wave after wave of questions. Kreider said it's still new to him.
"He's probably asking more questions before his sixth game than he did before his first," Ryan McDonagh said. "He's learning fast."
So is everyone else.
The Kid is here.