Filip Chytil #72 of the New York Rangers celebrates his...

Filip Chytil #72 of the New York Rangers celebrates his second goal of the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game One of the Eastern Conference Final with teammates Adam Fox #23 and Alexis Lafreniere #13 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, June 1, 2022 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Let’s start with this after Rangers 6 (Filip Chytil 2), Lightning 2 in Game 1 at a literally shaking Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night: The Blueshirts are going to see far better from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions over the full course of this Eastern Conference Final.

The Lightning hadn’t played since completing a four-game, second-round sweep of the Panthers on May 23 and the lack of crispness in their defense, their shooting accuracy and in goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s performance were clearly evident throughout.

But let’s also make this a starting point: Chytil, who scored the winner, and his Kid Line mates Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko have quickly become a primary reason the Rangers stand a decent chance of overcoming the Lightning, even when Tampa Bay knocks off the rust. It’s why the Rangers could advance to their first Cup Final since 2014 and maybe, just maybe, lift the Cup for the first time since 1994.

“He’s grown up to be a man,” coach Gerard Gallant said of Chytil, who had eight goals in 67 regular-season games in his fourth NHL season but now has seven goals in 15 playoff games, just the fifth Ranger to have that many in one postseason before his 23rd birthday.

“He’s 22 years old and he feels good about his game. He always has. But now he’s really stepping it up. Every time you watch him go out there and play, he’s more confident and he’s stronger on every puck. He’s just growing up.”

Chytil, a Kid no longer, is a star being born right in front of us. His two goals on Wednesday gave him five in his last three games.

“Maybe,” Chytil said when asked if he’s playing his best hockey. “But I was working hard through the whole season. There was tough moments. So many chances that I couldn’t put into the net. Maybe the hockey wasn’t as bad but when you’re not putting pucks to the net, you’re not helping the team that much and maybe start, a little, to be frustrated. But now, it’s finally going in and I’m so happy that I can help the team like this and win the games.”

Having a productive third line takes scoring pressure away from Mika Zibanejad’s top line with Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano and Ryan Strome’s second line with Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp.

Kreider, Vatrano, Panarin and Zibanejad all had goals in Game 1, by the way.

It’s a recipe the Lightning used to win back-to-back Cups with Barclay Goodrow skating with Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman. But the salary cap-strapped Lightning couldn’t keep that third line around for a third Cup run.

Goodrow, of course, wound up with the Rangers while Coleman departed for the Flames and Gourde went to the Kraken in the expansion draft.

But Gallant is using Goodrow to center Tyler Motte and Ryan Reaves on the fourth line.

It’s his Kid Line that earns the third-line matchup checkmark over the Lightning’s Brandon Hagel-Ross Colton-Corey Perry trio.

Chytil scored both his goals in the second period to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead.

First, he got open in the slot to receive Kakko’s feed from behind the crease and make it 3-2 at 10:09. Kakko’s stickhandling and vision can’t be overlooked on the sequence and Lafreniere earned the secondary assist. Then, Chytil made it 4-2 from the right circle at 15:43 to complete a crisp passing sequence from Lafreniere to defenseman K’Andre Miller.

From a tie score to an eventual rout in just over five minutes.

“It was close to their best,” Gallant said. “They got inside. They scored some nice goals. They’re a confident bunch of kids right now and we need that to continue.”

Eventually, the Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko trio, if it stays together over the coming seasons, will age out of being called The Kid Line and probably elevate to a top-six role.

For now, though, this is the right spot and the right moniker for the three.

Defenseman Jacob Trouba opined that Chytil can’t be called a Kid anymore since “he’s the second-longest tenured Ranger.”

Actually, Chytil is third, behind Kreider and Zibanejad.

He’s becoming just as important as those two.


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