To be frank, the New York Rangers‘ playoff hopes were looking bleak. They had lost both games on home-ice, rather embarrassingly, and were down 3-games-to-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then Chris Kreider happened. Kreider returned to the lineup in Game 4 and looked shaky, but in Games 5 and 6, Kreider was flying, making plays all over the ice. Kreider’s play is a big reason the Rangers have forced a Game 7.
Kreider had not played since Mar. 24 because of a broken hand suffered in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. The full effects of losing Kreider weren’t felt until the playoffs rolled around. They missed his size and speed, especially on the power play, which went into an 0-for-36 slump from Game 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers to Game 5 against the Penguins. Kreider was second on the team in power play goals during the regular season.
Of course, Kreider was the one to break the streak, making two excellent plays. First, he dove to get the puck to Ryan McDonagh at the point, keeping the play alive which is something the Rangers haven’t been doing on the power play. Then he got up and started towards the front of the net, got a rebound and sneaked it by Marc-Andre Fleury on the short side.
It isn’t just the power play that Kreider has helped but the overall depth of the team. The Rangers had a huge hole with their top nine forwards without him. Players like J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Dan Carcillo were inserted into that role, but they couldn’t play well enough to earn the trust of coach Alain Vigneault. With Kreider back, it gives Vigneault the luxury of having four complete lines that he can roll at anytime.
Then there is the physical play from Kreider. If you watch any of the games, you can tell the Rangers aren’t a overly physical team. Kreider brings the element of a player who will bang defensemen every chance he gets. He also has shown the ability to agitate, taking Jussi Jokinen off the ice for the Penguins during Game 6. Also in Game 6, Kreider had a breakaway and rammed into Fleury during it, disallowing the goal but getting the Penguins stirred up. During the regular season he even got into it with Sidney Crosby and will most likely do it again in Game 7.
Vigneault wants the Rangers to be a fast team, and no one is faster than Kreider. There was a play in Game 6 where he called for a lob pass from line mate Derek Stepan. Kreider split two defensemen and almost got to the puck in time to have a grade A scoring chance. He also gives the Rangers the luxury of using long stretch passes because of his incendiary speed. His blazing speed pushes the defense back, creating more scoring opportunities for his teammates like Rick Nash.
Obviously, there are a number of reasons why the Rangers are forcing a Game 7. A lot of it has to do with the emotion they are riding from the passing of Martin St. Louis‘ mother. With that being said, Kreider’s value to this team has been shown through the last three games, and he is a huge reason why the Rangers forced a Game 7