Chris Kreider flashed his brilliant potential in Game 1 of the second-round series with the Washington Nationals in netting the game-winner and assisting on another goal, but that wasn't the best news to come from the 3-1 New York Rangers win.
No, the most optimism should arise from the 18 shots they allowed and the upward trend in which their team game as a whole is going. Sure, the Rangers only had 14 shots of their own, but this is a group that has thrived on a defense-first, outwork-the-opponent mentality all season. And that continued to show for the third win in these playoffs. They'll look to build on that Monday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. EST, NBCSN).
Coach John Tortorella has preached about doing the little things right. When you execute those, you can seize the opportunities in front of you. New York has been an opportunistic team all season, grinding away to get most of their goals. Most of their markers have been of the "ugly" variety lately -- two of three were just that in Game 1 -- but this is a team that plays "boring" hockey and has made it winning hockey.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was the shakiest he's been all season in the first game. He's also a 22-year-old rookie. The Rangers cannot let him gain confidence by shooting long-range shots with no traffic in front. Their power play also has to find a way, it's as simple as that. It hasn't scored in two games (seven chances).
Marian Gaborik has also been a nonfactor, after scoring 41 goals in the regular season. It's hard to believe the Rangers can sustain their success without their best player performing like one. He has one goal and four points in the playoffs, 14 and 28 in 42 games.
That's why New York is lucky Kreider has fit in so quickly, using his blazing speed and size to wreak havoc all over the ice. Just 21 (birthday is on Game 2), the rookie has also shown Tortorella enough to trust him late in games -- and that says a lot for a coach who wants defensively responsible forwards.