By Jay Greenberg in New York
The fastest reason we can give you how Chris Kreider has gone from college player to Ranger legend in a New York minute is because he is so quick.
"I don't think there is a faster skater out there on either team," said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. "Other than that, as I have said the past couple days, it looks like he has a mental makeup that not too many things bother him.
"But I don't know the kid."
The Rangers are up 1-0 in the second round in part because they have a winger their coach wouldn't know if he fell over him. This hasn't stopped New York, three wins away from a first conference final in 15 years, from falling head over heels in love.
"Kreider! Kreider! " the Madison Square Garden crowd chanted after he snapped one from the top of the circle past Washington goalie Braden Holtby to break a 1-1 tie Saturday.
"It was a surreal experience, I got goosebumps," said Kreider. "I was really tired after the goal but I wasn't tired after they started chanting."
Certainly he looked completely refreshed in winning a short race along the boards to keep a puck alive for Brad Richards, who snapped a bad-angle wrister through Holtby just 1:30 later. It was Kreider's third point in the six playoff games that he has played and his second game winner.
Ken Dryden won the Stanley Cup for the Montreal Canadiens in 1971, the year he signed out of Cornell in March. Ken Morrow, Patrick Flatley and Chris Chelios were college players who signed after Olympics to hugely, impact long playoff runs by their NHL teams that season. Rob Blake, fresh out of Bowling Green with just two games regular season experience, keyed the Kings upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames in 1990.
But does anyone remember a college player without any regular-season NHL warmup, doing what Kreider is in this post-season? Which is, adding a scorer to a team that, well-drilled and conscientious as the Rangers may be, needed another impact player.
What's more, Kreider's arrival, fresh off a second NCAA championship in three years at Boston College actually appears to have given Tortorella two players. His linemate, second-year centre Derek Stepan, was a virtual no-show until Game 6 of the opening round against Ottawa, when Kreider found his stride.
Stepan, who had played with Kreider on U.S. teams at the world junior and world championships, made a huge pass through the slot to feed the rookie's goal in that stay-alive game in Ottawa and sprung the semi-breakaway goal against Washington.
"[Stepan] is smart enough player to know that he wasn't getting it done," said Tortorella. "There has to be a mental toughness that 'I'm going to make something happen here' and then things fall into place."
Things have a better chance of falling into place when your winger can create open ice. Six games don't make a career. Daniel Goneau had a fast start for the Rangers, too, but to get up to speed this quickly is impressive, even for a highly regarded prospect, the 19th player taken in a draft (2009).
"The entire experience is pretty overwhelming," said Kreider, who hasn't made it look that way at all. "I've only been here six games but it seems like more because of the help I've gotten."
Actually, it seems like more than six games because he knows what he is doing.
"I wouldn't have expected this," said Richards. "It shows you his learning curve, shows you his hockey IQ."
Even after a Game 1 in which there were only 32 shots and just 30 blocks, indicative of little offensive zone time for either team, Alex Ovechkin said Saturday there was plenty more room out there for the Caps in Game 1 than there was in the Boston series. The Caps kicked themselves for not putting that space to use.
"They definitely amped up their level and we were kind of stuck in that first-round intensity, didn't really ramp it up," Jay Beagle said after Sunday's practice. "I think it's just a mental thing.
"After the game we were like, 'that's not going to cut it, that's not good enough.' I think we'll come back tomorrow with hopefully our best game of the playoffs."
Alex Semin, who has been playing on the top line with Marcus Johansen and Nicklas Backstrom, was bumped to the fourth line with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin in practice Sunday. Semin took two penalties in Game 1.
Brian Boyle (concussion) skated Saturday for the third day in a row and reported no setbacks, but still wouldn't speculate about his availability for Game 2 Monday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET). "Trying to be responsible," he said.
Brandon Dubinsky, a Game 1 scratch with some kind of a leg injury, was seen on crutches through the doorway of a room off limits to reporters.
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