The Rangers' medical staff wouldn't allow Brian Boyle to jeopardize his sore back by bowling on a fan appreciation night in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday.
Maybe the precautionary move was wise.
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In the midst of a breakout season but pointless in five games, Boyle deflected Marc Staal's shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for a critical first-period goal Sunday afternoon that halved the Penguins' 2-0 lead and helped spark the Rangers to a 5-3 win that ended a six-game winless streak.
"You can go into a shell pretty quickly when you're reeling like we were," said Boyle, whose 19th goal tied him for the team lead. "We came back, we answered. I think it's going to do a lot for us in the long run."
In training camp, no one knew whether the 6-7 center would even be here for the short term.
Boyle had slid from a 2003 first-round pick of the Kings to a fourth-liner whom coach John Tortorella virtually dismissed after last season.
"I'll be honest with you, we had him ticketed for Hartford," he said. "But in his mind, he was not going to be left off this team."
The Hingham, Mass., native - who had never scored more than four goals in any of his three NHL seasons - improved his skating with offseason tutoring from Canadian Olympian Barbara Underhill, and his mind-set and physical game rose accordingly.
By November, with injuries undermining the forward corps, Boyle was centering the second line and making the most of his opportunities, scoring 14 goals before New Year's Eve and five since.
"I'm more confident to be in good positions. You find yourself in the right spots and anticipating," said Boyle, 26.
Tortorella has been as surprised as anyone. "He's been good for a long time now,'' he said. "He's become a guy I can use in all situations."
Boyle (10 assists) has a power-play goal and also has contributed a goal and two assists while the Rangers were shorthanded. On Sunday, he won 11 of 18 faceoffs and was credited with four hits and three blocked shots in 19:42, including 5:48 on a penalty-kill that was 5-for-6.
At every level, Boyle said, it's taken him a little while to adjust.
"I knew I could score,'' said Boyle, who had 65 goals for Boston College and 31 in 2007-08 in the AHL. "I want to be part of the offense. I take responsibility for those 2-1 or 3-2 losses. That's what I expect from myself."