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BERLET SPOTLIGHT: CHRIS KREIDER

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The New York Rangers certainly have looked good about signing Boston College left wing Chris Kreider only three days after the Eagles won their second national title in three years.

 But despite limited ice time in his first three pro games, Kreider delivered the winning goal Monday night off a brilliant play and pass by Derek Stepan, who also left college early, in the Rangers’ 3-2 victory at Ottawa, setting up a dramatic Game 7 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Kreider’s first pro goal capped a three-goal outburst in the final 11 minutes of the second period that enabled the Rangers to overcome a 1-0 deficit and became the winner when the NHL got another black eye when it allowed Jason Spezza’s goal with 38.4 seconds left to stand despite replays showing Chris Neil, who scored Ottawa’s first goal, apparently kicked the puck in the net after he ran into goalie Henrik Lundqvist. But referees Steve Kozari and Tim Peel ruled it a goal, and league officials in Toronto ruled video review proved to be inconclusive in determining if Neil made contact with the puck. But it was clear that Neil used his stick to push Lundqvist to the side.

Lundqvist repeatedly yelled at Kozari and Peel as he joined his teammates on the ice after the game and then let loose in the locker room.

“Oh my God, it scares me,” Lundqvist said after making 13 of his 25 saves in the third period. “When it’s such an obvious play, goalie interference and a kick, and they still call it a goal, it scares me that someone can call that. It’s just unbelievable. … It still upsets me. We have this game and they get a chance. Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there’s no other explanation.”

Lundqvist’s comments were similar to what coach John Tortorella said after the Winter Classic in Philadelphia when Flyers forward Danny Briere got a penalty shot in the final minute of a one-goal game. Tortorella made reference to a conspiracy involving the NBC-TV and was fined $30,000.

Senators’ first-line winger Milan Michalek might face a suspension for Game 7 after kicking Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi twice in the stomach with his skate blade as part of the scrum in front of Lundqvist on the Senators’ late goal. Canadian television outlet CBC had numerous angles of the incident.

And Neil could be fined for threatening retribution after the Senators agitator was knocked down by Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto with 5:37 left. “I’m sure I’ll catch him with his head down one of these times,” Neil said about Del Zotto.

The top-seeded Rangers finally broke through on Senators goalie Craig Anderson when Stepan, who hadn’t scored in 10 games dating to the regular season and in 10 career playoff games, tied it at 1 on a power play off Brad Richards’ goal-mouth pass at 8:55 of the second period after Anderson had stopped 68 consecutive shots spanning 145 minutes, 27 seconds.

“I got a little bit of a monkey off my back, which is good,” Stepan said. “When you’re gripping the stick and having a tough time scoring, it’s definitely a relief when you can find the back of the net. Not only is that, but our power play gets a lift from it too. It’s two pretty important things right there.”

The Rangers’ power play struck again with 2:52 left, this time on a lengthy 5-on-3, as Richards drove a slap shot through Anderson from the right circle. Only 2:11 later, Kreider, who played a regular shift with Stepan and captain Ryan Callahan, took a Stepan pass from the right wing to the left side, where Kreider tallied on a quick shot to the stick side. Ironically, Stepan left the University of Wisconsin after his sophomore year after Kreider and BC beat the Badgers 5-0 in the NCAA championship games. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh left Wisconsin at the same time after his junior year and played half of his first pro season with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

“I almost waited too long to shoot, but fortunately it went in off (Anderson),” said Kreider, 20, who left BC after his junior year and got the ceremonial puck for his first pro goal from Callahan after signing with the Rangers 13 days earlier. “Those are just the kind of plays that (Stepan) makes. Not a lot of people can make those or even think about making those.

“Everything has been a learning experience up to this point. It’s definitely something I need to just take a mental picture of: the intensity the guys brought and the way they played.”

Tortorella had said that despite rookie left wing Carl Hagelin returning from a three-game suspension for concussing Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson with a hit to the head in Game 2, Kreider was going to have to be more of a factor if the Rangers were to stay alive against the eighth-seeded Senators. Hagelin and Kreider were both needed because Brian Boyle, arguably the Rangers’ best forward in the first five games, was out with a concussion sustained on a mid-ice hit by Neil that didn’t draw a penalty or even a hearing from NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan.

“He’s handled himself well,” Tortorella said of Kreider. “He’s played very well. He played pretty good the other night, too. He’s played two good ones.”

Kreider’s winner was possible because of several stellar saves by Lundqvist, especially in the second period on Alfredsson, who returned after missing three games. Alfredsson and Spezza broke in on a 2-on-1, but Lundqvist slid across quickly to deny the Senators captain at the post.

“I kind of know he’s there, so I know when the pass comes, I just try to come across and take it away,” Lundqvist said. “That’s what they like to do. They like to freeze you and go across instead of shooting, so you have to be patient and look around you all the time.”

Though Lundqvist was looking around for Kozari and Peel at game’s end, the Rangers started looking forward to Thursday night, when MSG should be jumping.

“A win helps,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “We’re going back home to our building. We’re confident in there. Game 7s are a lot of fun. We’ll be ready. We put this by us and look ahead and get ourselves ready to go for Game 7. We’ve got to regroup. We’ve got two days. We know we’ve played well in their building and we have to come out with another gutsy effort. Everybody knows Game 7, anything can happen. We have a couple of days to get ready.”

TIPPY AND QUENNY LOOK GOOD SHAKING HANDS

Watching Phoenix coach Dave Tippett and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville shake hands after Tippett’s Coyotes eliminated Quenneville’s Blackhawks 4-0 in Game 5 of their Western Conference on Monday night brought back fond memories of their times together with the Hartford Whalers.

Tippett and Quenneville remain two of the hardest working and classiest people that I have ever covered in sports, and a sense of proud came over me as the two close friends shook hands and had a few words. Quenneville also shook hands with Coyotes assistant coach John Anderson, who replaced another former Whaler, Ulf Samuelsson, after Ulfie returned to his native Sweden this season to coach Modo.

“We kind of threw a ‘Rope-a-Dope’ at them like Muhammad Ali a little bit, but they were a great team and it was a fun series,” said Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, who had an assist on the winner by defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the second period. “We battled the whole time and to beat those guys is a huge accomplishment for us.”

Mike Smith had 39 saves, 28 in the first two periods, and Ekman-Larsson and center Gilbert Brule each had a goal and an assist as the Coyotes made sure there wouldn’t be a record sixth consecutive overtime game as they won the franchise’s first playoff series since the original Winnipeg Jets 25 years ago.

“It seems like no matter what happens, somebody’s always got something derogatory to say about hockey down in Arizona,” Tippett said. “It’s nice to get that monkey off our backs. You listen to (captain) Shane Doan talk about how much this meant to him, to push this thing along. You just recognize all the work that – not just players, but organizational people – have put in to try and make this thing go down there, and it was very gratifying.”

Congratulations, Tippy, and good luck in the next round against the Nashville Predators

Bruce Berlet

Be sure to check out other great articles at Howlings.

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