Goal for Rangers' Kid Line: Repeat performance of last year's playoffs
It was 18 games between goals for Rangers center Filip Chytil, who scored his 19th of the season on Feb. 10 against Seattle and then didn’t score No. 20 until March 19, against Nashville. But he scored No. 21 in the Rangers’ last game, the 4-3 win Saturday in Florida, when he and both of his linemates, Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko, all had a goal and an assist.
And as the Blueshirts hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, with their focus now on fine-tuning their game for the playoffs, Chytil, Lafrenière and Kakko all appear to be ramping up their game for the time of the year that means the most.
It was in the playoffs last year that Ranger fans — and coach Gerard Gallant — fell in love with the Kid Line, who were the Blueshirts’ most exciting line in the postseason. Chytil, 23, is looking forward to recreating the magic he, Kakko, 22, and Lafrenière, 21, made last year, as the Rangers look to go on to another long run this spring.
“I think all three of us, we are better players than we were last year, last playoffs,’’ Chytil said recently. “So it's just an exciting time.’’
Chytil had seven goals — third-most on the team behind Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who had 10 each — and nine points in 20 playoff games last year. Lafrenière had two goals and seven assists in 20 games, and Kakko had two goals and three assists in 19 games.
All three youngsters have already had career highs in points this season, and Chytil (21) and Kakko (14) have each also established new career-high goal totals as well. And they’ve done this with third-line ice time. According to the Rangers, Chytil’s 21 goals were second-most in the league among players who average less than 15 minutes of ice time per game. His 41 points were tied for the most in that category.
“The Kid Line was unbelievable last game, all over the puck, creating chances, creating goals for us,’’ the newest Ranger, Patrick Kane, said after practice Monday. “That's kind of what I remember about our [Stanley Cup-winning] teams in Chicago. It wasn't like it was Kane and [Jonathan] Toews every night, you know? It seemed like every night there's a new guy that stepped up. And [Saturday] was their night. You need that depth in the playoffs.’’
On Saturday, Gallant was quick to recognize the energy the youngsters were providing and rewarded them with more ice time in the second and third periods.
“That was nice to see,’’ Kakko said. “The first period, I didn't know how much I played, but I didn't feel good. I didn't get going. So it felt like we started the game in the second period. But we are happy about that. [Gallant] saw we were playing good and he needed to put us on the ice a little bit more.’’
“If I didn't notice that, I shouldn't be coaching in the league,’’ Gallant joked after the game. “Everybody noticed it in the building. They were excellent.’’
Kakko started the Rangers’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit midway through the second period when he crashed the net for a rebound of Chytil’s shot, beat three Florida defenders to the puck and popped it in.
“I feel like I don't have too many of those goals, like, in front of the net, [dirty] goals,’’ Kakko said. “Now, I’ve got at least one, and it was a big goal for us.’’
“Our team is unbelievable,’’ Chytil said. “All four lines can score goals, and when we didn't score this month that much, other lines scored, and we won the games. [Saturday] that was us, and we also got two points. So if we're not scoring, other players are scoring. And if they're not, we score.’’