TAMPA, Fla. - The Ranger who played Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals "like he was possessed right from the start," according to Rick Nash, was tardy for his media session at the team's hotel Wednesday morning.
"Plays one good game and he's late," coach Alain Vigneault said with a chuckle.
Derick Brassard certainly could be excused.
After all, the 27-year-old center came through right on time Tuesday, scoring a career-high three goals and five points in an epic all-around performance in the 7-3 win that forced a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
"I play with a lot of emotion, and I think at this time of the year that's what it takes to make a difference, a lot of passion and emotion," said Brassard, the first player to have five points and a plus-5 in a playoff game since the Kings' Tomas Sandstrom and Wayne Gretzky on April 10, 1990. Gretzky also was the last player to have a hat trick in a conference final game, in 1997.
No one's comparing Brassard to The Great One, but his star is on the rise.
"He had an impressive night," said Nash, who also played with the Quebec native in Columbus. "He was around the puck and finding himself open a lot . . . he was working for his opportunities. Since he came to New York, he's turned into a premier center."
Brassard, who arrived in the multi-player trade for Marian Gaborik in April 2013, described his six years with the Blue Jackets as "a hard time, but I stuck with it. I came here and they showed a lot of confidence in me right away, and I think it really helped me to adjust."
It's fair to say the adjustment is over. Brassard produced a career-high 19 goals and 60 points this season, and leads the Blueshirts in playoff scoring this season with nine goals and 16 points.
But that doesn't mean Brassard, or any Ranger, can sail along. In fact, before Game 6, Vigneault sought a private discussion with his top centers.
"I felt our coach, in a sense, did challenge us," Derek Stepan said. "This series is so close that there's not much separating the two teams. He wanted that extra push from me and Brass, and Brass responded in a way that I think A.V. really wanted him to -- and our group really needed him to. It was a good coaching move."
Vigneault had a slightly different take: "What started as a challenge was more like, 'This is the reality, and this is what we need you guys to do.' They're both very professional. They both understood what I was talking about; it wasn't that big of a deal."
To be sure, the big deal is Friday night at the Garden, where the Rangers have scored only four goals in three games this series. They scored 17 in three games in Tampa.
"It should be the other way around," Brassard said. "But we show up to play every time on the road. It seems like we don't have anyone to impress. Maybe at home we're trying to impress our fans or we're trying to impress people. We just have to show up Friday and play the same way, be confident. The atmosphere's going to be great."
After his media duties, Brassard planned to rest on the rare off-day and recharge.
"A chance to not think about hockey, not go to the rink," he said. "Against Washington [in the previous round], we were pretty exhausted, and those two days really helped us to come out with a win."