The New York Rangers punched a ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals with an improbable comeback after falling behind the Pittsburgh Penguins three games to one. The rally marks the first time in franchise history that the Rangers have trailed 3-1 and managed to win the series.
There are multiple storylines as far as how the Rangers were able to pull off their amazing comeback, but the most credit should go to New York’s third line of Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello.
The third line has been New York’s most consistent throughout the season, and they didn’t disappoint in the second round against the Pens. The trio has developed outstanding chemistry this year and plays an efficient cycle game that wears down the opposition in their defensive zone. Zuccarello has grown into a dynamic playmaker as the season has progressed. Pouliot currently looks to be playing the best hockey of his eight-year career, and Brassard has excelled in his first full season with the blueshirts.
The line keeps possession better than any other Ranger line, and they really make the opposition defend. That proved to be extremely vital against a Penguins team that’s loaded with talent, and has the ability to turn defense into offense quickly. Even if the line wasn’t scoring, it seemed that every shift was quality. The group got rewarded for their efforts in the form of 13 combined points in the seven games against Pittsburgh. Individually, the trio topped the Rangers in scoring in the series.
Brassard led all Rangers with four goals and tied the Pens’ Jussi Jokinen to lead all scorers in the series. All four of Brassards goals came in New York victories, including the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 1, and an important insurance goal in Game 6. The line definitely put pressure on the Penguins all series, and an important thing to note is that they primarily did it at even strength. Of the 13 points the line produced, 11 of them were registered at even strength, including all six of their goals.
Having a line that can dominate 5-on-5 play will go a long way in the playoffs, and the Rangers are halfway to capturing the team’s first cup in 20 years. Brassard, Pouliot and Zuccarello will play an essential role if the Rangers are able to get there.