GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Chris Kreider's teammates had long left the ice after practice Saturday. The Rangers' 22-year-old forward couldn't bring himself to join them, however, and he continued to skate and shoot the puck into an empty net for a good 20 minutes after most of his teammates had left the ice.
Kreider, an improbable playoff hero last postseason as a rookie right out of Boston College, has seen scant action in the playoffs this season. That could all change Sunday in Game 6 of the Rangers-Capitals series at Madison Square Garden. With the Rangers season on the line and in need of a win to avoid elimination, it looks as though Kreider will be the player tapped to take the place of injured forward Ryane Clowe.
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Clowe, who earlier in the series suffered an unspecified injury believed to be a concussion, left Game 5 in the first period after being boarded by the Capitals' Jason Chimera. Clowe did not practice with the team Saturday, and Rangers coach John Tortorella refused to identify who might replace him other than to say: "We try to find the best player we can."
Kreider is a logical candidate to fill Clowe's slot, although Tortorella also could choose journeyman Kris Newbury. After finally leaving the ice Saturday to walk into a near empty locker room, Kreider said that he would find out before Sunday's game what his role would be.
"Regardless of what happens, I'm just trying to put my best foot forward no matter what kind of position I'm in," he said. "I want to have a positive attitude and help the team any way I can if I'm needed."
Kreider, of course, has come up big in the playoffs before. A 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Kreider made his NHL debut in the first round of the playoffs last year shortly after leading Boston College to its second NCAA title in three years. In 18 playoff games, Kreider had five goals and two assists, tying an NHL record for playoff goals scored before playing a regular-season game.
"Last year, it was a lot of fun," Kreider said. "It was obviously the situation presented itself and I was granted an opportunity. It was fun. It was surreal. It was a good ride. It's a completely different situation this year, but just like last year, I have the same mentality. I want to help the team."
Instead of having a major impact this year, Kreider missed his first NHL training camp because of the lockout. He then struggled with his game playing for AHL Connecticut. When the lockout ended, Kreider found himself bouncing back and forth between the Rangers and the Whale.
A good game Sunday might put a happier spin on what has been a disappointing season, but Kreider said he isn't looking at it that way.
Said Kreider: "I'm not looking to prove anything to anyone. I'm just trying to improve my game and help the team."