Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
TAMPA, Fla. - Maybe fortune teller Don Maloney will turn out to be correct.
On March 1, the day that Rangers general manager Glen Sather, the crafty card player from High River, Alberta, went all in - acquiring defenseman Keith Yandle from Arizona for Anthony Duclair (the Rangers' top prospect), John Moore, a second-round draft choice this June and a first-rounder in either 2016 or 2017 - Coyotes GM Maloney said: "I think Keith could be the final piece of a Stanley Cup-winning team in New York."
To be fair, the crystal ball had been cloudy since the 28-year-old Yandle, a Boston native, arrived in New York, bringing not only his luggage on the team's private jet and 37 assists in 63 games, but the expectations that the defenseman would revitalize the Blueshirts' sagging power play.
Coming from the desert in Arizona, where he had played since 2006, the Garden was far from an oasis.
In 21 games with his new team, Yandle was hesitant, trying to find a fit with less ice time (he averaged about 23 minutes a night for four years) in a new system with entrenched blueliners. He put up only two goals and nine assists and continued to be prone to giveaways, having been eighth in the league with 66 in Arizona.
But Sather -- who divulged that he had tried to acquire Yandle for years but that Maloney refused his advances until Duclair was on the table, preached patience -- as did coach Alain Vigneault.
And now that gamble appears to be paying off: Yandle is peaking at the right time. He scored his first playoff goal as a Ranger and added two assists in 18:16 in the 5-1 win over the Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals -- tying a personal high set in 2011 -- a game after posting two assists in Game 3. Quite a momentum swing for someone who had only four assists through the first 14 playoff games.
On Saturday, sporting a shiner under his right eye from a collision with Derek Stepan in Game 3, Yandle declared that he indeed had arrived. "I think in this series I've felt probably at my best and most comfortable, and I kind of feel like it's coming together," he said. "It's just, you know, the way guys play and finding your role. It was something that you knew was going to take some time, and I feel good right now."
Knowing Yandle's playoff abilities (19 points in 27 games with the Coyotes), Vigneault couldn't be more pleased with the breakthrough. "It's the best I've seen him play so far with the puck: How to beat the forecheck, when to jump up in the attack,'' he said. "It takes players a little adjustment time."
Speaking of adjustments, Sather also extended the contract of Cam Talbot on Dec. 19, which paid off from Feb. 4 to March 26 when Henrik Lundqvist was out injured, and removed the uncertainty over pending free agents Marc Staal and Mats Zuccarello, extending their contracts in January and March. And by the way, Sather -- who swung and missed on several offseason signings -- also negotiated that Arizona assume half of Yandle's annual $5.25-million salary through next season.
On Friday, Sather -- with some Western Canada outdoorsman still simmering in his soul -- learned that he was voted one of three finalists for General Manager of the Year while watching from a booth at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay. There's tough competition: Tampa Bay's Steve Yzerman and Anaheim's Bob Murray. Slats may not win that award, but there remain some bigger fish to fry.
The Red, Hot and Blue Power PlayAfter stumbling through a 6-for-40 stretch, the Rangers' two power-play units (Dan Boyle, Martin St. Louis, Derek Brassard, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle) have scored six goals in the last 11 chances. They have two power-play goals in three consecutive playoff games for the first time since the Patrick Division semifinals in 1992 against the Devils.
Six players have scored and six have at least two points during that span.
St. Louis 1-2-3
When you deliver, Vigneault responds. The coach has tried J.T. Miller everywhere, including on the first line in the Pittsburgh series, and stored it in his memory. "I thought it might be something worthwhile going back to, and it paid off," he said Saturday.
In the third period of Wednesday's Game 3, when Vigneault paired Miller with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, Miller's hustle was a factor in Ryan McDonagh's tying power-play goal at 2:28. He then set up Dan Boyle's goal at 18:04 that tied it at 5.
In Game 4 on Friday, Miller was back with Nash and Brassard, delivered three hits, committed no penalties, opened up some room for Nash and may have found a new role. "J.T. seems to kind of back off their defensemen a little bit," Nash said. "He's got a great shot. He's a physical guy. He's kind of got a lot of tools of a top power forward."