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Chris Kreider has become a big-time playoff contributor for Rangers

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider looks

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider looks on in the third period against Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on April 4, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Picture this: Rookie power forward, fresh out of Boston College, makes his mark with a playoff game-winning goal for the Rangers.

Kevin Hayes, April 22, 2015.

And he's not the only one. Roll the tape back to April 23, 2012. First round, Game 6 in Ottawa.

A rookie winger goes straight from Chestnut Hill to the playoffs and scores the game-winner in a 3-2 win over the Senators.

Yeah, Chris Kreider.

Kreider was 20 when he had five goals and two assists in 18 postseason games that spring -- before ever scoring a regular-season goal.

Hayes can only hope to have a playoff run like that this spring. The postseason will continue if the Rangers, who lead the Penguins 3-1 in the best-of-seven first-round series, can eliminate Pittsburgh in Game 5 at home Friday night or in Games 6 or 7.

Now 23, Kreider was a presence in the two wins in Pittsburgh this week. He banged a rebound off the back wall out of the air past Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period on Monday, and it turned out to be the deciding goal in a 2-1 victory. It was the fifth game-winner of his 12 playoff goals.

On Wednesday, he delivered a game-high 10 hits in another 2-1 triumph that put the Rangers on the brink of advancing to the second round.

"I thought I had more," he said with a grin Thursday after practice at Madison Square Garden. But Kreider, who is 6-3 and 225 pounds with eye-popping speed, always sets his sights higher.

Unlike former fellow Eagle Hayes, who never played in the minors, Kreider earned his way back to the pros after being sent to the AHL out of training camp in 2013-14, coach Alain Vigneault's first season.

"He's improved since we brought him back from Hartford [after seven games]," Vigneault said. "Everybody sees Kreids' upside. [On Wednesday] night he was wearing the opposition down and using his size and speed to generate some offensive looks. We need him to continue that."

In last season's playoffs, Kreider had five goals and eight assists in 15 games. This season, he was the only NHL player to score at least 20 goals and 40 points and post a plus-20 rating and 80 penalty minutes.

"Any playoff experience that you had in the past, hopefully you learned a thing or two," said Kreider, who then listed a few. "In recent memory, we haven't been able to close out teams in five or six. Every single playoff game, there's a sense of desperation, but there's an added element when it's an elimination game. It's not easy to advance; they're [the Penguins] going to have a lot of pushback Friday."

Notes & quotes: Defenseman Kevin Klein, who has not played since his left forearm was broken by Alex Ovechkin's shot on March 11, skated alone because he was "a little sore" from a team morning skate Wednesday, said Vigneault, who put the odds of a return by Klein in Game 5 at "50-50" . . . Keith Yandle, who has been under the weather, and Mats Zuccarello were out for "maintenance" days. Vigneault expects both to play tonight.

New York Sports