Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

As guided hockey missiles go, no one on the Rangers consistently can match the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, who was at it again Saturday with eight hits, 11 total shots and one otherworldly goal.

But that's OK, as long as the Rangers' big bodies take care of business, too, and do not allow the Capitals to push their teammates around the way they sometimes did Thursday in Game 1 of this second-round playoff series.

Did someone say Chris Kreider? If so, he heard you.

The 6-3, 226-pounder is nearly as big as Ovi, faster than Ovi and 5½ years younger than Ovi, having turned 24 the day of Game 1.

Come Game 2 on Saturday at the Garden, he immediately made it clear there would be no physical intimidation on this afternoon for the Rangers, setting the tone for what became a 3-2 victory that evened the series at one game apiece.

So active was Kreider that his easy goal off the rebound of a Jesper Fast shot 38 seconds in seemed like a footnote.

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Well, OK, more than a footnote. As Kreider said, "I think if I didn't score the goal it probably would have been a tie game, so I liked the goal a lot, too."

But just as easy to like were several other Kreider moments, such as putting a headlock on Ovechkin after a scrum in front of Henrik Lundqvist, hammering Ovechkin into the boards and later doing the same to 6-3, 220-pound Brooks Orpik.

Kreider also hit the post with a shot, forced Braden Holtby to make a save from a ridiculous angle in the corner and had a great chance heading alone toward Holtby but ended up being too fast to properly set himself before reaching the pipe.

In summation, an honest day's work for the former Boston College star, whose 13 playoff goals are the most by a Ranger since he made his debut during the first round against Ottawa in 2012.

"He's a huge difference-maker," captain Ryan McDonagh said after the Rangers held on for their ninth consecutive one-goal game in the playoffs, dating to last year's Cup Final. (They are 6-3, going 1-1 against the Capitals, 4-1 against the Penguins and 1-1 against the Kings.) "He has a big influence on the game for us, the way he can skate, the way he can hit and his shot, the physicality. When he's putting all three of those together, it's a tough combo to defend for anyone."


Added Kreider's linemate, Derek Stepan, "He's got to continue to use his big body and his speed. He's gotten better and better as the year has gone on and he's gotten better and better as the playoffs have gone on."

The Rangers needed to answer after Game 1 not only because they needed a victory but because of how that game ended, with Nicklas Backstrom crashing into Dan Boyle to set up the goal that won it for the Caps with 1.3 seconds left.

Kreider began the process, then Boyle scored to make it 2-0 -- a poetic touch.

"We didn't get frustrated," McDonagh said. "We took the right approach after what happened in Game 1."

It started with Kreider, whose four hits tied for the team high. "I think I was just in a lot of good situations where I could finish guys," he said. "It's definitely something we've been focusing on and I've been focusing on.

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"I just think my position was better and allowed me to hit guys."

The hits figure to keep on coming from both sides, and some of them will hurt, because the Capitals have one of the NHL's biggest teams.

But when they are on their game, the Rangers have answers to any question the Capitals can pose, even Ovechkin. On Saturday, Kreider wasted no time raising his hand to provide some.