Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers skates against...

Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers skates against the Ottawa Senators. (April 26, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The NHL education of Chris Kreider has been a crash course, and game by game, the Rangers' rookie left wing continues to establish himself as a star pupil.

It bears repeating because it hardly seems possible: Less than three weeks ago, the guy was a junior at Boston College, leading the Eagles to an NCAA championship.

In Game 7 Thursday night, the 20-year-old at times was the best player on the ice as the Rangers defeated the Senators, 2-1, at Madison Square Garden to win the teams' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

It was the fifth game of his professional career. Did someone say "Game 7?'' That hardly seemed to scare Kreider -- or his difficult-to-please coach.

Before the game, John Tortorella said, "I have no hesitation in putting him in all situations.'' Then he proved it, putting Kreider on the ice for the final frantic seconds. "He deserved to be there," the coach said.

Said Kreider: "I mean, it's definitely pretty awesome, a big confidence boost."

In Game 6, Kreider scored the Rangers' third -- and what proved to be deciding -- goal. That was fun. But even though he did not score Thursday night, the 6-3, 230-pounder set up the Rangers' first goal with a steal from the Senators' Nick Foligno. Soon Derek Stepan was feeding Marc Staal, who scored.

There were many other contributions, some subtle, but the Rangers and their fans clearly have a sense of what they have in the budding star. Kreider did his best in the winners' locker room to remind reporters that he is a work in progress.

"I'm learning every single day,'' he said. "I think I'm going to be learning for a very long time . . . At this level, I don't think anyone is comfortable. I think the pace is so high, everyone is kind of pushing themselves to another level, beyond their limits.''

At the least, Kreider's excellent first-round adventure validated his decision to leave BC with one year of eligibility remaining.

"This is an unbelievable experience,'' he said. "Not a lot of people get to get thrust right into this. It's hard, impossible, to say no to. I wanted to be a part of this.''

Someone asked if his time in the NHL playoffs compares to that of the Frozen Four earlier this month.

"I guess so, but it's definitely an unbelievable jump,'' he said. "That was an emotional roller coaster, but this is on an entirely different scale.''

Game 7 surely was the sort of night he imagined upon turning pro. Right? "It's not something I thought about,'' he said. "I was trying to stay as near-sighted as possible and just come in and work hard.''

Kreider, who played 18:21 Thursday night, debuted in Game 3, recording just over 11 minutes of ice time that he called among the most exhausting minutes of his life. By Game 6, he was scoring a game-winner in a must-win game. Game 7 was even better.

"He has no fear; that's what I like about him," Tortorella said. "He's not here to test the waters. He's trying to make a difference."

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