Chris Kreider has a way of playing his best when the spotlight is at its brightest. Rangers teammate Ryan McDonagh learned this lesson four years ago, learned it in the most painful of ways.
In the 2010 NCAA championship game, Kreider's Boston College squad crushed McDonagh's Wisconsin team. And Kreider, playing in the championship game for the first time, displayed absolutely no jitters.
"He was a beast out there," McDonagh said Sunday after the Rangers' first practice since they clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. "I think he even scored a goal against us. He was the same kind of guy then that he is now."
Kreider may be hated in Montreal for knocking goaltender Carey Price out of the Eastern Conference finals, but the 6-3, 220-pounder is beloved by Rangers fans for his physical style.
Kreider has four goals and six assists since returning from a fractured left hand that forced him to miss the final nine regular-season games and the first 10 games of the playoffs. In 66 regular-season games, he had 17 goals and 20 assists.
In the second period of Game 5 against Montreal, Kreider became the first Ranger to record three points in one period of a playoff game since Jaromir Jagr had three assists in the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on April 17, 2007, against the Atlanta Thrashers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault definitely likes what he's seen from Kreider since he returned.
"Chris with [Derek Stepan and Rick Nash] have been a real consistent line for us," he said. "Bringing that speed back in, bringing that physical game he can play, it makes it real tough on the other team."
Kreider said it is thrilling to be headed to the Stanley Cup Final, though he doesn't feel he is unique in playing well when the pressure is on.
"This is the position we want to be in this time of year," he said. "I think it brings out everyone's best. This time of year, it's just exciting to be able to come to the rink."
McDonagh said it's great to see Kreider playing the way he is, especially given that he had to go through a lot the past couple of years while bouncing back and forth between the Rangers and their minor-league team.
"He's been huge," McDonagh said. "He's been enjoying it himself, finding his groove and his game and finding out what works for him. It's been fun to watch, seeing him come up for the first time and going up and down from the minors and figuring out what he needs to do to be effective out there. It's great to see."