The New York Rangers had everything going their way during a 7-2 rout of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but one thing happened that had to worry the team moving forward. Center Derick Brassard left the game early in the first period after taking a hard hit from Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver, and despite the win, Brassard will be a huge loss if he doesn’t return soon.
Coach Alain Vigneault says that Brassard is day-to-day, but didn’t elaborate much further, meaning that Brassard’s services will be in question tomorrow night in Montreal. Brassard has been a vital component to the Rangers’ impressive postseason run. He has seven points in 14 playoff games and recorded five of them in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, including two game-winning goals.
His consistency centering the third line with Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot has been even more important than his point production. The Rangers have depth to replace Brassard without much lineup shuffling, but it would be a shame for New York to have their third line broken up.
The trio cycles the puck in the offensive zone better than any other Rangers line, and it has evidently worn down the opposition as each series has gone on. The Rangers wouldn’t be in this position if not for Brassard’s play this postseason. Zuccarello, Brassard and Pouliot led the Rangers in scoring during the second round, and combined for 13 points in seven games against the Penguins.
Dominic Moore would likely move up onto the third line with Pouliot and Zuccarello if Brassard can’t play, leaving Brian Boyle to center the fourth line. Moore played great filling in for Brassard in Game 1, but the line just isn’t as dangerous without its usual trio.
Good teams persevere when key players go down, and the Rangers will have to prepare for the possibility of Brassard missing some time. Luckily for New York, their upcoming schedule is quite favorable in terms of giving him some extra time to get healthy. After Game 2 on Monday, the next two games are played in six days, leaving two days off between each one. For the Rangers, that hopefully means that if Brassard does miss time, it’s only one game.
Can the Rangers win a Stanley Cup without Brassard in their lineup? Sure they can, but would be much harder without him, a guy who usually doesn’t get enough credit for his consistent play but makes a big difference for the team.