Carl Hagelin doesn't have the scoring chops of his linemates, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, on the Rangers' top line. But those two wouldn't be able to make the plays they've made without Hagelin, the 23-year-old rookie, blazing after pucks.
Hagelin was on the hunt from the moment Game 7 started, and his reward was his first two-point playoff game and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
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"He doesn't end up with a lot of points, but he's been very good this series chasing down pucks," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "That was key tonight."
It was the key to the very important opening goal by Richards just 1:32 into the game.
Hagelin raced past Karl Alzner to retrieve Michael Del Zotto's dump-in, and his speed created all kinds of assignment problems for the Caps as they drifted back into their own zone. Hagelin wheeled around, set up a short pass for Richards and watched his center blast the puck into the net.
"It's Game 7, and I think we've been wearing them down a bit," Hagelin said. "They were tired, I think."
And Hagelin was incredibly fresh. He barely had time to get his feet wet in the opening round against the Senators before he was hit with a three-game suspension for an elbow to Daniel Alfredsson's head. Hagelin returned for Game 6 but wasn't much of a factor as the Rangers worked to get past Ottawa.
Against a Capitals team with a decidedly slower defense, Hagelin's work below the opposing goal line became more important -- never more so than Saturday night.
Until then, his biggest impact in the series was taking Joel Ward's stick to the mouth and suffering a cut lip with 21 seconds left in Game 5. That set up Richards' tying goal with 7.6 seconds left and Marc Staal's overtime winner, both on the resulting power play.
"My legs felt good tonight," Hagelin said. "The whole team did a good job skating and getting on pucks."
Gaborik had an energetic game, helped by a little more room to maneuver as the Caps tried to open up and tie the score in the second and third periods. Tortorella had his top line on the ice whenever possible as Hagelin helped pen in the Caps, especially in the third, and Hagelin delivered the puck to Gaborik to start the rush that ended with Del Zotto's goal, which proved to be the game-winner.
"We were controlling the puck a lot this series, and they had to chase a lot," Hagelin said. "It's tough to play 20 minutes in your own zone, blocking shots. I do think they were tired."