NEW YORK (AP) — In a thrilling series featuring two of the NHL’s top goal scorers and two of the league’s best goaltenders, Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers is stealing the spotlight.
The 24-year-old power forward who is one of fastest skaters in the league has been the biggest reason why the Rangers are still going and heading to a decisive Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Down 3-1 in the series, Kreider scored with 1:41 left in regulation in Game 5 to force overtime. Ryan McDonagh then got the winner in overtime.
Kreider stepped up big again in Game 6, scoring goals early and late in the first period and the Rangers held on for a 4-3 win. He also had the early goal in Game 2 when New York evened the series.
“There is a very young player with tons of potential and he’s working on putting it all together, as much offensively as defensively,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “There has been a real strong improvement on his game from last year to this year. There was progress last season. With his potential, it’s normal. He’s become a very important piece of our team with a big role. For us, like any team that expects to win at this time of year, you need to have your players to play up to their level and Chris is doing that for us now and he needs to continue.”
Kreider has a team-high four goals in the series — all in the Rangers’ three wins — and he is tied for the team lead with five in the postseason.
“He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever played with and he showed it on the first goal, huge first goal ,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle, who had the game-winning goal in Game 6.
The Rangers struggled for goals in the opening five games of the series.
Rick Nash, who led the Rangers with 42 goals in the regular season, has two in the playoffs, one this series against Braden Holtby.
Alexander Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 53 goals in the regular season, has two in this series, one in each of the first two games. He has been blanked by Henrik Lundqvist the past four games.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the key to winning with the big names not scoring is to get support from the other guys.
Kreider has been the guy for the Rangers.
“Only thing that will matter: Whatever it says on the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Trotz said. “If a top player can take a team on his shoulders for a game or a foot soldier can have that game or the unsung hero can have a little bit of a breakout game, that’s all that’s going to matter. We’ll take one of each if we can.”
Ovechkin told reporters after Game 6 that the Capitals would win Game 7 and play either Montreal or Tampa Bay in the conference finals.
The bravado didn’t bother Trotz.
“His whole career, he’s said stuff,” Trotz said Monday. “Every year, he says stuff that (is) bold — and he backs it up, usually.”
NOTES: Vigneault said he expects D Ryan McDonagh to play Wednesday. McDonagh left the ice after taking a big hit from Ovechkin in the third period of Game 6 but returned. … Since 1985, the Capitals have managed to lose nine series in which they led 2-0 or 3-1.
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Arlington, Va., contributed to this report.
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