J.T. Miller scores twice in MSG debut in Rangers' 4-1 win over Islanders

Rangers' Chris Kreider, right, celebrates after teammate J.T. Rangers' Chris Kreider, right, celebrates after teammate J.T. Miller, center, scored a goal while New York Islanders' Brian Strait skates past during the first period. (Feb. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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When speedy rookie Carl Hagelin was called up from the AHL Connecticut Whale last season, Rangers coach John Tortorella said "he changed the team; he made everybody play quicker."

The intriguing possibility of having another youngster alter the shape of the team arose Thursday night. J.T. Miller, 19, the club's first-round draft choice in 2011, scored twice in his Madison Square Garden debut to lift the Rangers past the Islanders, 4-1.

"They're two different types of players," Tortorella said. "Miller has a lot of puck poise for such a young kid. And he has some strut."

The teenager from East Palestine, Ohio -- who had seven points as Team USA won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Russia in January -- didn't take long to make his mark in the rivalry.

On his first shift, he fired the puck from the left side between goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's pads at 1:29 to give the Rangers (5-5-0) a 1-0 lead.

"It was nice to get the first one out of the way, but there was a long way to go, so I just kept plugging along," Miller said.

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After John Tavares scored his fifth goal midway through the second period to get the Isles within 2-1, Miller took a home run pass from Ryan McDonagh, raced in on a breakaway and beat Nabokov at 18:11 for only the Rangers' fourth power-play goal of the season.

McDonagh, who recorded his first goal and first assist of the season, scored an empty-netter with 2:07 left instead of passing it to Miller nearby for a hat trick.

"I told him, 'Good shot,' '' Miller said with a grin. "I'm glad it went in."

Captain Ryan Callahan was pleased as well.

"It's a spark to see a guy come up in his first two games and play the way he has," said Callahan, who played on a line with Miller and Chris Kreider. "He's got pretty good size, can hold on to pucks, has a tremendous shot."

Callahan, who had missed three games with a dislocated shoulder, retrieved the puck from the opening goal for the rookie, who became the youngest Ranger to score since Michael Del Zotto did so on March 24, 2010, as a 19-year-old against the Islanders.

"I dropped it a few times," Callahan said.

Miller didn't fumble his chance at history. The last player to score multiple goals in his MSG debut was rookie Chris Kontos in a 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 3, 1983.

"I don't know if I had a goal in mind. Just get pucks to the net and had one that went through, so I'll take it," said Miller, who played 13:31 and won 5 of 8 faceoffs.

If Miller keeps playing at this high level, the Rangers will be faced with a tough decision whether to send him back to the AHL, where he had eight goals and 20 points in 37 games this season.

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Kreider assisted on Miller's first goal for his second point, and Marc Staal was credited with two assists.

It was a game in which the Rangers rediscovered their work ethic and took a step forward on special teams, killing five power plays with the help of Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves). Marian Gaborik scored his sixth goal, and first in five games, but at the end of the day, it was Miller Time.

Afterward, Miller wore the Broadway Hat, the black fedora awarded by teammates to the MVP in a Rangers victory.

"It's a nice hat,'' he said. "I'm looking forward to getting a win the next game so I can pass it on to somebody else.''

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