Derek Stepan wouldn't be complacent.
In their Game 1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers mostly played well, but there were a number of improvements Stepan thought they should make. They needed to manage the puck more carefully, keep the Penguins out of the crease and make sure they didn't clog up the neutral zone again.
In short, the Rangers could do better.
But Stepan needed to improve personally, too. He probably was thinking it in the first period Saturday night when, stationed directly in front of the Penguins' net, he blasted a one-timer and the shot was gobbled up by Marc-Andre Fleury.
Stepan could do better.
And then he did.
About a minute after his failed attempt, Stepan corralled a slick feed from J.T. Miller and wristed a top-shelf goal from the right circle to open the scoring at 17:05. It was one of the Rangers' few chances in a first period that was heavy on tight checking and light on shots. The Rangers managed only three in the period and the Penguins had five.
The goal gave Stepan his 12th point (four goals and eight assists) in his last 14 playoff games, a span that dates to Game 6 against the Penguins last year. It also highlighted one of his stronger attributes -- an ability to analyze what works and what doesn't and shift his play accordingly.
His success is "a combination of speed, I would say physicality and Step being a really smart player that has the ability to find both [his linemates]," coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. "They've done a good job of defending and they've done a good job, in my estimation, of creating turnovers in the offensive zone through that physical play, and they can make something happen out of it."
And though Vigneault was cagey when asked what the Rangers need to work on ("I'm definitely not going to share that," he said), Stepan all but carries an itemized list with him. As it turned out, there were times Saturday night when it looked as if the Rangers needed a refresher course.
"I just think it's so crucial that we continue to do puck management and I felt like the little bit of the dip in the second period [in Game 1], we didn't manage the puck well," Stepan said. "That's one area that I think if we continue to work at and get better at, we can really help ourselves out."
And then: "We gotta do a job making sure that we let Hank see pucks and . . . we've got to make sure we do cause some traffic in front of Fleury."
And finally: "We gotta make sure that we continue to do a lot of good things [on defense] five-on-five because the majority of the game is played that way."
It's his Blueprint to Better, and Stepan has every intention of carrying it out.