Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blackhawks must follow Toews' lead


LOS ANGELES -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews issued a pregame directive to his team Saturday: He wanted his teammates to have the fire in their bellies from melting down in Game 2, but combined with the poise in their mind shown in winning Game 1.


Then he went out and showed them what he meant, scoring two goals in the first period and turning in a dominant 20-minute performance.


Unfortunately, not enough of his teammates followed the lead of their No. 1 center, and slowly but surely, the Los Angeles Kings dampened the spark produced by Toews, rallying for a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Staples Center.


The Kings now have a 2-1 lead in this best-of-7 series. Game 4 is here Monday (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).


The Blackhawks have some questions to answer before that game.


How have they allowed 10 goals to the Kings in the past 82 minutes of playing time?


How can they defend the line of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, which has scored virtually every big goal for the Kings in rallies during each of the past two games?


What has happened to Chicago’s once-dominant special teams?


Why are they playing so poorly away from the United Center?


But the most important question to answer is why the other 17 skaters did not match the intensity of their captain, who had a shorthanded goal to open the scoring and then added a highlight-reel goal in-close later in the period to counter a power-play goal by Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov and give Chicago its second lead of the game?


"He's special," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews. "I think his work ethic is contagious. We've got to make sure we all look to play as hard as he does."


It's not as simple as breaking out the elite-player card, however, to explain why there weren't more people reaching the bar set by Toews. From the time Kings forward Justin Williams scored a "lucky" goal in the dying minutes of the second period in Game 2 to start a six-goal onslaught, the Kings have been the better team in virtually every area.


"We're going to keep pushing for that next level," Toews said. "That's what it's going to take against these guys. They want it really bad. They're playing hard."


By contrast, the Blackhawks have not matched that desperation regularly in the past four periods and, as a result, they are down in the series.


"We must be stronger on the puck and play every second and those little details right now," Chicago forward Michal Handzus said. "They're doing a better job than us."


Saturday night, there were so many examples.


In the third period, Tanner Pearson negated a pair of icing calls by outracing Chicago's defense. Neither effort resulted in a goal, but each led to three quality scoring chances.


On Chicago's third and final penalty kill of the night, the Blackhawks allowed all three Kings forwards to encamp within a foot of goalie Corey Crawford. Again, a goal did not result, but the Kings scored two seconds after the penalty expired when Drew Doughty blasted a shot past Crawford. An unattended Dwight King was so close to the Chicago goalie that it was near impossible for Crawford to see the incoming missile.


As Doughty raised his hands in celebration, Crawford showed the slightest flinch of frustration, slamming his stick against the top of his pads.


He had plenty of company in that exercise. Nobody in the Chicago room is happy. They are not playing Chicago Blackhawks hockey. They have blown leads, struggled on special teams and lacked discipline.


The lack of discipline is particularly troubling for a veteran team that has lost the first road game in each of the past 10 playoff series it has played.


In the first period, Handzus took a penalty for closing his hand on the puck in the offensive zone, more than 180 feet from his own net. Toews scored on a shorthanded breakaway, but 50 seconds later, Voynov tied the game.


"It's a penalty and I shouldn't touch the puck like that," Handzus said.


Those kinds of penalties are happening far too often against a Kings team that has clearly put the Blackhawks under duress and on the defensive.


"We have to stay out of the box," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We've talked about it; they're penalties we can't take. There are some you have to take sometimes, sometimes it's an accident, but they're scoring on the power play."


Los Angeles used two power-play goals to fuel their rally in Game 2.


So what is the answer for the Blackhawks?


As usual, they are looking to their captain for guidance. And as usual, Captain Serious is ready to show them the way out of this dangerous situation, just like he was Saturday night.


"We need to be the best we possibly can be," Toews said. "We've shown we can do that in the past. The tougher the situation, [the harder] we're going to come to play. The motivation is right there in front of us now. There's nothing left to think about, just go out there and play and give everything you've got."


It's a simple proposition, but the question remains: Can his Blackhawks teammates follow the lead of Toews?



Ramsay: Rangers, Canadiens sending messages


For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens , NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.


Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers .


Two games in six days have afforded the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens ample time to engage in the art of mind games while they wait for the Eastern Conference Final to resume.


The Canadiens and Rangers, particularly coaches Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault, have used the media to deliver messages to each other, the referees and the NHL about players, tactics, hits, injuries and really whatever else they felt like talking about regardless of the question they were asked.


Longtime NHL coach and player Craig Ramsay wasn't surprised to hear that the coaches were using the media as their conduit when he was informed about the background noise in the series on Saturday. Ramsay said this type of message-sending and these mind games typically have a purpose that extends beyond simply attempting to air some grievances in the press.


He said they have everything to do with the competition, and trying to gain an advantage in the next game, which for the Rangers and Canadiens is Game 4 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).


The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.


"There's no question you'll say things that perhaps you don't really believe in, but it's a good way to send a message that you've been wronged and hope that that one call in the next game doesn't happen against you and maybe happens for you," Ramsay told NHL.com. "That one power play one way or another can make a difference."


The Rangers didn't get that one power play they felt they deserved in Game 3 after Montreal forward Brandon Prust connected with a late and high hit on Rangers center Derek Stepan at 2:45 of the first period. Prust was not penalized by the on-ice officials, but on Friday he received a two-game suspension for interference from the NHL's Department of Player Safety.


Vigneault has used the media since the end of Game 3 to talk about Prust, the lateness of the hit, how he thinks all four officials missed an obvious penalty, and the fallout that features a broken jaw for Stepan and a 10-game suspension for Daniel Carcillo.


"Here is an opportunity with a coach where you can legitimate bring it up as a point in a press conference and now you're getting something out to the League and to the referees that, 'Hey, we've been good and look what they did to us, a late hit on an unsuspecting player,' " Ramsay said. "You're trying to send a message to the League to watch out for it, but also to Montreal to watch out. They want the referees to feel like maybe they owe them one."


Therrien might have had similar intentions between the first two games of the series, when his feelings on Chris Kreider falling into goalie Carey Price at 3:15 of the second period in Game 1 changed.


Therrien called Kreider's play on Price "accidental, honestly" in his press conference after Game 1. He escalated his description to "reckless" seconds after announcing Price won't play for the remainder of the series during his press conference before Game 2.


"We've grown with our media coverage and our media presence has gotten so much bigger, especially at this time of year, so these coaches are using it as a tool," Ramsay said. "They're trying to send messages to people. They're trying to show their players they're backing them up."


That was evident again Saturday, when Vigneault refused to rule Stepan out of Game 4 despite the fact that he was still in the hospital recovering from surgery to repair the fracture in his jaw.


Vigneault said only that it would be "unlikely" for Stepan to play Sunday.


He also talked about how if Prust's hit resulted in a penalty on the ice then the incident that followed, with Carcillo having a physical altercation with linesman Steve Driscoll, the result of which was a game misconduct and 10-game suspension, would not have happened.


Montreal center Daniel Briere called Vigneault's comments "fishy," and then said he thought Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is getting away with a lot of slashing.


More mind games. More message-sending.


"In all honesty, I think it's kind of fun, and I always did," Ramsay said of the mind games. "I thought it was fun as a player and as a coach it's kind of interesting. This coach saying we're changing this, changing that, and you know the reality is they're probably not doing much of anything. I think it's great fun."


Therrien didn't think it was fun to see some Rangers assistant coaches in the stands as the Canadiens started their practice Sunday at the Garden.


He had to eventually tell them to leave, in front of the media no less. In his press conference after practice, he cited "an agreement between the teams and the managers that the coaches aren't allowed to watch practice between games."


Ramsay, again, didn't seem at all surprised when he was told about the incident.


More mind games. More attempts to gain an advantage.


"You've got these two good teams playing well and they're trying to find some edge," Ramsay said. "There is a lot of message-sending. It's been thought out, talked over. Sometimes in the heat of passion after a game you say something you don't mean, but these coaches are smart guys, especially these two guys, and if they're saying something it's got a purpose."


Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl



Rangers and Canadiens try to win battle of mind games


NEW YORK -- They began the moment this Eastern Conference Final between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers was set and continue unabated leading into Game 4 of the series Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).


The Rangers might lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, but the count on mind games won by either team is not quite as clear.


And it seems nearly as important.


As the Canadiens and Rangers each took to the ice for practice Saturday, what was said in the dressing rooms and on the podium was of far greater interest.


Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was up first, and he did not disappoint.


Vigneault refused to rule out center Derek Stepan playing in Game 4, even though Stepan underwent surgery on his broken jaw a day earlier and was still in a hospital as Vigneault was speaking.


"I would say unlikely," is as far as Vigneault would go when discussing Stepan's status.


The Canadiens took it a step farther, with several players considering it a given that Stepan will play and one even questioning whether he actually broke his jaw.


Stepan sustained the injury early in the first period of Game 3 when he was hit late by Canadiens forward and former teammate Brandon Prust, which cost Prust a two-game suspension. Stepan left the game briefly but returned, only to have Vigneault announce the next day that he had a broken jaw and was going to have surgery.


Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher was asked Saturday if he would be surprised if Stepan played in Game 4.


"No," he replied. "He got up and he was yapping and yelling. So I'm sure the jaw isn't hurting too much."


Vigneault also took advantage of an opportunity for a second day in a row to note how no penalty was called on the Prust hit and how the Rangers should have had a five-minute power play instead of a later incident where Rangers forward Dan Carcillo wound up being penalized and eventually suspended for abuse of an official, a suspension he has decided to appeal.


The validity of that point as well was questioned by the Canadiens.


"I think it seems a little fishy to me, it seems like a little bit of a game," center Danny Briere said. "All the complaints about starting the game where they should have been on a five-minute power play and it would have changed the game and all that stuff.


"The refs are trying to do their best, but [Vigneault] should look at his own team: [the Rangers] got away with a lot of stuff too. Ryan McDonagh's a great defenseman, but I haven't seen anyone slash as much as he has since Chris Pronger.


"It goes both ways, and it's part of the game and it happens. But I think it's all about trying to position himself towards the referee."


The fun did not stop there.


During Canadiens practice, coach Michel Therrien noticed that Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson and video coach Jerry Dineen were watching his team practice. First he sent his assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault, who used to coach in the Rangers organization with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League, to ask them to leave.


When they didn't, Therrien went himself and vocally asked the men to leave, which they eventually did.


"There's an agreement between the teams and the managers that the coaches aren't allowed to watch practice between games," Therrien explained. "It's out of respect for the coaches who want to make adjustments. It's always been the case. When we saw the assistant coaches watching our practice, Jean-Jacques Daigneault went to tell them and they didn't seem to understand. The second time I went, and they didn't seem to understand. The third time around, you had to send your message.


"It's a gentleman's agreement that teams usually respect."


If indeed that "gentleman's agreement" was reached by Rangers general manager Glen Sather and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, the Rangers' coaches were not the only ones not respecting it: Sather was in the stands watching practice as well.


"Yeah I saw it," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. "It's part of the thing when you come into a series, when teams talk, you discuss things like that."


As if that wasn't enough, Therrien took it a step further during his own session with the media when he took to the podium.


Therrien was asked if he expected to see Stepan in the lineup, and unlike his players, he had his doubts. He said he consulted with the Canadiens' doctors and that they considered it risky to play a game two days after surgery to repair a broken jaw. But Therrien then began talking about Derick Brassard, who is expected to return to the Rangers lineup for the first time since he was injured in Game 1 on a hit by Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver.


"We expect that a guy like Brassard will be back in the lineup, an important player for them who's been good in the playoffs," Therrien said. "We know exactly where he is injured, because the hockey world is a small world. When we know where a player is injured we need to assure ourselves that we play solid."


This is the second time in these Stanley Cup Playoffs that Therrien has told reporters he knows exactly where a player is injured, the first being in reference to Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Ondrej Palat during the Canadiens' first-round series.


Therrien's reference to the hockey world being a small world may have been an underhanded dig at Vigneault, who said the same thing after Game 2 when he noted that the Rangers had an idea that the Canadiens would be playing Dustin Tokarski in goal after Carey Price was injured and lost for the series in Game 1.


The verbal jawing from either side of this series is starting to get heated, as is the hockey. After two days off, these teams will go at each other again Sunday and it could very well be the most emotional game of the series to date.


"When you play the same players game after game," Briere said, "it's normal that at a certain point you get sick of seeing them.


"I think we're there now."



Two Metro Teams Interested in Clitsome

























May 24, 2014, 2:59 PM ET [66 Comments]








Eklund

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Hearing that both Philadelphia and the Islanders have interest in puck-moving Winnipeg defenseman Grant Clitsome. He has two seasons to run on his contract, at a $2.067M cap hit but is coming off an injury plagued season.

Also even with the front office change in Philly with Ron Hextall becoming GM and Paul Holmgren moving up to team president, I am still hearing that the Flyers remain intrigued by Dustin Byfuglien. They have coveted Zach Bogosian for years, but the Jets have never made him available.


More to come...



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Rangers' Boyle proving himself a playoff performer


NEW YORK -- If Brian Boyle had his way he'd be a New York Ranger for life. He's a New Englander-turned-New Yorker, and he's proud of it.


"My heart has always been here," Boyle told NHL.com on Saturday.


Boyle might have to pull his heart out of New York City and lose his allegiance to the Rangers after this season, his fifth in the Big Apple. He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and there has been no indication from the Rangers that they plan to re-sign him.


However, the uncertainty of Boyle's future here has added another layer to his motivation in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's not close to ready for his Ranger career to end, a fact that has only incentivized him to be a factor in the playoffs.


The Rangers are reaping the rewards.


Boyle has been an integral part of the Rangers' success throughout the postseason, especially because of his bravery on the penalty kill. But injuries to Derick Brassard and now Derek Stepan have resulted in Boyle's raised level of importance in the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens.


The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).


Brassard, who has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, said he will play, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said it's "unlikely" that Stepan (broken jaw) will be in the lineup.


That means Boyle's role won't change. He started the series as the fourth-line left wing, but Brassard's injury forced Vigneault to move him to center on that line.


Boyle will be there again if Stepan is out. He hopes to be as impactful as he has been through the first three games of the Conference Final.


He is among the reasons the Rangers are a perfect 9-for-9 on the penalty kill in the series and why their fourth line has been able to forecheck and keep the puck in the offensive zone.


Boyle has won 25 of 33 faceoffs and has been credited with six blocked shots, including three in New York's 3-1 victory in Game 2. The Rangers so far have a 14-10 edge in shots on goal when Boyle is on the ice during 5-on-5 play.


"He plays real important minutes for us as far as penalty killing and a lot of times I'm not afraid at all to use him or his line against the other team's top line," Vigneault said. "He's done a good job for us. I think for whatever reason, ever since the start of the playoffs, I don't know if it's more attention on his part or better focus or whatever, but his game is better now than it was during the regular season."


Boyle doesn't argue that point. He called his regular season "tough."


He had 18 points in 82 games, but only one goal in the first 42 games. Coupled with Boyle's similarly difficult 2012-13 season, when he had two goals in 38 games and was occasionally a healthy scratch, it's easy to see why he would be frustrated.


"The second half of this year was good, but I couldn't really buy a goal so it was tough," Boyle said. "This year didn't go exactly like I wanted it to, but at the end of the day you take a step back, we're in the Conference Final right now and hopefully I'm making a difference."


He is, and it's in the same areas where he made a difference for the Rangers in the regular season. The difference is that Boyle's role on the penalty kill is amplified in the playoffs because of how much of a dagger a power-play goal against can be.


The Rangers had the third-ranked PK in the regular season, when Boyle averaged 2:04 of shorthanded ice time per game, the most among New York forwards. He's averaging 2:15 of shorthanded ice time per game in the playoffs, and the Rangers have killed 22 straight penalties.


"I certainly admire a guy like Brian, who does all the little things well," Rangers center Dominic Moore said. "Its' the kind of thing he's taken pride in. You don't just get that kind of versatility overnight. It's something he's put a lot of work into over the years and taken pride in being able to do things well in a variety of different ways. It's so important this time of year to have players like that on your side."


Derek Dorsett, who plays right wing on the fourth line, said Boyle is an easy guy to play with because he's predictable, but in a positive way for his wingers.


"He logs big minutes on the penalty kill, blocks a ton of shots, and those are the guys who shine in the playoffs," Dorsett said. "But he's definitely picked it up a gear in the playoffs."


No matter if it's by design, by importance, or by sheer will, the Rangers need Boyle to keep playing at a high level if they want to keep playing in the playoffs. The longer they do, the longer Boyle is assured of staying a Ranger.


Nobody knows if he'll be a Ranger for life, but if this New Englander-turned-New Yorker can help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup he'll forever be beloved in the Big Apple.


That should be good enough, no matter what happens this summer.


"I'm so lucky and blessed to play hockey here, and I've found some of my best friends on this team," Boyle said. "At the same time things do change and I've got to understand that, but that adds to the importance of keeping this thing going."


---



AUDIO: Prust feels “awful” about Stepan’s injury; texted him in hospital







Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002.




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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Defenseman Muzzin making a difference for Kings


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- At the beginning of this season, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin was trying to find his way into the lineup. He was scratched for five games in October and it appeared it would be a well-worn door to coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse.


It would have been difficult to imagine then that Muzzin would be trusted to play a lot of minutes against the offensively loaded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. But Muzzin was a key part of a 6-2 win in Game 2 at both ends of the ice.


The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 entering Game 3 on Saturday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).


Muzzin's power-play goal, a fake-first shot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford early in the third period, was the Game 2 winner. Somewhat lost in the Kings' comeback from a 2-0 deficit was that Muzzin, along with partner Drew Doughty, spent much of the night playing against Chicago's top line of Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa. Muzzin blocked four shots and played 2:46 shorthanded, something he wasn't trusted to do earlier this season.


Kings defenseman Matt Greene sees all of that as the evolution of Muzzin's game.


"Jake's been awesome," Greene said. "He's been a great offensive player for us the past couple of years. His shot's awesome. It's nice to see him finding the back of the net. He's also doing a great job defensively for us … he's really coming into his own being a great two-way defenseman."


Greene pointed to Muzzin's defense as a big part of his improvement. It's been needed because of injuries to Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, two shutdown defenseman. Mitchell returned for the conference final but Regehr remains out with a knee injury.


Muzzin said having Doughty, Mitchell and Regehr as teammates provided a blueprint for stepping into their roles.


"I've been ready for it, and [I've been] watching those guys and learning from them," Muzzin said. "I was excited for the opportunity. Obviously you want to play in all situations. I got the opportunity. I just want to take advantage of it."


Muzzin could study Doughty, Mitchell and Regehr on the penalty kill from the bench because he didn't play on that unit for most of the season. That seems like an indictment on a top-pairing defenseman, but it might be understandable for one who is in his second full NHL season.


Muzzin, 25, has been known mostly for his offense. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, he has a good shot that pays off at the right time, like in Game 2.


"When you talk about the momentum part of it, there was some momentum there," coach Darryl Sutter said of Muzzin's goal that gave the Kings a 3-2 lead early in the third period.


Muzzin is second to Doughty in scoring among Kings defensemen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has a goal and two assists on the best power play among the four active teams.


"Some shots are going in right now," Muzzin said. "You've got to up your play to win in the playoffs. Playing with [Kopitar] and [Doughty] and guys like that helps, because they're upping their play as well. To get a big goal last night was big for our club. It just feels good to contribute."



Finland beats Canada, joins Swedes, Czechs, and Russians in semis of Worlds


The semifinals of the 2014 IIHF World Championship are set — Finland will take on the Czech Republic and Russia will meet Sweden. Both games will take place Saturday in Minsk, with a spot in Sunday’s final on the line.


Finland booked its spot in the semis today by taking out the Olympic gold medalists from Canada, 3-2.


Sweden, meanwhile, defeated host Belarus by the same 3-2 score.


Earlier in the day, the Czechs beat the Americans, 4-3, and the Russians blanked the French, 3-0.



Murphy: Blackhawks will learn from loss, move on


For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks , NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL assistant coach Gord Murphy to break down the action. Murphy will be checking in throughout the series.


Murphy enjoyed a 14-season career as an NHL defenseman before spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and most recently serving as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers .


The Chicago Blackhawks went from a 2-0 lead late in the second period of Game 2 of the Western Conference Final to 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.


Though that could rattle some teams, longtime NHL assistant coach Gord Murphy isn't concerned with how the Blackhawks will react moving forward.


That starts with Game 3 on Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.


Murphy told NHL.com he believes the Blackhawks will get right back to doing the things that made them successful in Game 1 and for most of Game 2.


"For Chicago heading into Los Angeles, they'll look to start the same way they have in the first two games of the series, then focus on maintaining their game for 60 minutes," he said. "For Chicago, what stood out is their speed, their quickness and pace of play. They had territorial advantage, spending very little time in the defensive zone, winning most of the loose-puck races, the battles and board battles. They were doing this with a combination of stubborn, tight gaps from their defensemen, good sticks, body positioning and quicker second-man support along with their excellent transition game."


Though the Blackhawks have been the better team through two games, in Murphy's opinion, the Kings winning in Chicago could provide a big boost. They had lost their past five regular-season and playoff games at United Center, including all three games there in the 2013 Western Conference Final.


"That win for Los Angeles does quite a bit for multiple reasons," Murphy said. "They were going to have to win at least one game in Chicago, and they did not want to go down 2-0. To come back from being down 2-0 late in the second period now gives L.A. tons of confidence."


One aspect of their comeback that caught Murphy's attention was a slight change in the structure of the Kings power play. The result was Jeff Carter's game-tying power-play goal 1:37 into the third and Jake Muzzin's go-ahead power-play goal at 4:04 of the final period.


"The Kings' adjustment on the power play of Drew Doughty moving to the middle at the top and focusing on getting the puck through to the net instead of being positioned off to the side and looking for the one-timer that was missing the net and clearing out the zone was big," he said. "Chicago's penalty killers do such a good job of fronting and positioning in the shot lanes. It appeared that L.A. changed their shot selection to a quick-release snap or wrist shot looking to get the puck though to the net-front area with a good screen playing for redirects and rebounds."


Another adjustment the Kings will have to make is defending against the Blackhawks' stretch passes. Chicago's goals in Game 2 came on similar long passes.


"The Kings defensemen must keep Chicago's forwards in front of them while maintaining tight gaps, limiting their ability to receive the stretch pass and make a play," Murphy said. "Along with their defensemen being aware, their third forward must work from a high position inside the dots, working to discourage the stretch pass, supporting the defensemen and negating any odd-man rush against."


Though the Kings certainly should feel good heading home for Game 3, Murphy believes the Blackhawks won't feel any hangover from their loss in Game 2.


"I don't believe it is that big a blow to Chicago," he said. "They were playing a great game for 38 minutes, but let off the gas and took a few costly penalties early in the third. They will learn from that game, focus on positives and move forward."


---



Ryan MacInnis carving his own path to NHL career


Ryan MacInnis hopes one day to follow the incredible path paved by his father, Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis.


Unlike dad, however, Ryan will look to do so while starring at a different position.


Al MacInnis, who won the 1989 Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 1999 Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, spent 23 seasons in the League with the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues. His No. 2 was retired by the Blues and honored by the Flames.


Ryan MacInnis had 16 goals and 37 points in 66 games this season with Kitchener. (Photo: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Ryan is a center for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. Born in St. Louis, he said it was no big deal when he informed his father that he would prefer to score goals instead of help prevent them.


"I like skating forward more than backwards," MacInnis said. "I realize that the defensive side of being a centerman is very important. Everyone needs to play defense so you can win games."


MacInnis had 16 goals and 37 points in 66 games this season, and tied for the team lead with six power-play goals. He was tied for ninth in scoring among first-year OHL players.


"He improved over the second half of the season with his mobility and speed to position himself to create more offensively, be on the attack and shoot really well," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "I think Ryan has handled himself very well considering who his dad is. I give him credit for playing under that spotlight and continuing to work on his game.


"I think he's got a bright future and I like his upside."


MacInnis moved up 13 spots to No. 20 on Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, to be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.


"He's a very smart player," Kitchener coach Troy Smith said. "He's able to distribute the puck very well. I think he's going to be a good two-way center. He's a guy who can put up points and also play in the last minute [of tight games]."


After learning he was rated No. 33 on Central Scouting's midterm report in January, MacInnis, a 6-foot-3, 183-pound left-handed shot, was determined to improve.


"I wanted to be as high as possible and I knew I could get better; it was a big motivation," he said.


MacInnis compares his style of play to Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn.


"He's a responsible two-way center with a very good hockey IQ; he sees the ice and anticipates very well to generate scoring chances," director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He's a good playmaker but just needs to work on his shot and shoot more often."


MacInnis participated in USA Hockey's All-American Prospects Game at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh in September and the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary in January.


His performance in Calgary marked the first time he stepped on the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome in two years, since his father was honored as "Forever A Flame" on Feb. 27, 2012.


The elder MacInnis, a 13-time NHL All-Star, was accompanied on the ice by his family and members of the Flames alumni during a pregame ceremony that was established to honor members of the Flames organization.


"It was pretty cool," Ryan MacInnis said. "I walked out onto the ice with my family and dad made a speech. It was awesome to see how Calgary just loves him."


Does the younger MacInnis offer the same type of cannon shot that dad once did?


"No, not even close to Dad's," MacInnis said. "We'll go outside a lot whenever I'm home in St. Louis and we'll shoot a lot. He'll just feed me one-timers and he'll teach me about the art of shooting.


"He says the secret to a good shot is using all of your body and just laying into it. Flex that stick as much as possible; just let the stick do the work. He said to just keep practicing it and you'll get the habit down because it's like muscle memory."


Ryan was asked at what age he figured out how special a hockey player his father was.


"I think when I was 10 when I saw his number retired by the St. Louis Blues, and 13 when I realized he was pretty famous when I saw the bronze statue in front of Scottrade Center," MacInnis said. "I'd Google his name a lot too, and there was plenty there to read. I learned quickly that he was pretty well-known."


---



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kings' blitz leaves Blackhawks stunned


CHICAGO -- Everything was going just the way the Chicago Blackhawks planned against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, until the last two minutes of the second period.


Before they knew what hit them, the defending Stanley Cup Champions melted down in a 6-2 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.


Chicago led 2-0 near the end of the second and appeared headed for a 2-0 lead in the series, which shifts to Staples Center for Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS),. Instead, the Kings flipped the entire scene upside down in the final 22 minutes to even the series at a game apiece.


Ignited by a goal from Justin Williams that cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 with 1:46 left in the second, the Kings scored five unanswered goals in the third for a resounding victory, sending the series to Los Angeles even at one win apiece -- and leaving the Blackhawks shaking their heads.


"You get in after two and you're up 2-0, it's a different game maybe," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "The way it turned on a dime like that, I don't know if we've seen a game like that all year, where we're doing everything right and then all of a sudden it was a disaster."


That's an understatement. The way it all unraveled, especially in the third period, was striking. The shots on goal were even after two periods, but the game really wasn't. The Blackhawks outskated the Kings for much of the game's first half, then watched the visitors take control after Williams' goal.


The Kings took over after Chicago failed to capitalize on several chances to push its lead to three or more goals, thanks in large part to a great performance by L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick. That was all Los Angeles needed.


Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook had a golden chance to make it 3-0 with 7:17 left in the second when he redirected a saucer pass by forward Kris Versteeg during a 2-on-1 rush, but Quick stopped that shot and everything else Chicago threw at him the rest of the way. Momentum swung heavily toward the Kings, and they didn't waste it.


"I really liked how we played for 38 minutes," Quenneville said. "We did everything we were looking to do and they got a little momentum at the end of the [second] period, scoring a big goal for them on kind of an innocent play and it gave them some life. [We] took a couple funny penalties [in the third] and they're both in our net, and that was it."


Just like that, the Kings delivered a knockout punch that left Blackhawks fans sitting in stunned silence.


Aiding the effort were those two "funny" penalties, which gave the Kings back-to-back power plays in the first few minutes of the third. The first was called on Brandon Bollig for interference near the Chicago blue line at 1:14 with the puck at the other end of the rink. Jeff Carter was credited with getting his stick on a long shot by defenseman Drew Doughty during the ensuing power play at 1:37; it turned out to be his first of three goals in the period.


Even more damaging were goals scored by defenseman Jake Muzzin at 4:04 and forward Tyler Toffoli at 8:59 for the Kings' first lead. Following a bench minor against the Blackhawks for too many men on the ice, Muzzin rifled a shot from the left circle past goalie Corey Crawford on the short side to make it 3-2. Toffoli snapped a wrist shot into the net almost five minutes later to give Los Angeles a two-goal lead.


Crawford and other Blackhawks lost sight of the puck in midair following the initial save and appeared to slow up. Kings forward Tanner Pearson didn't stop, collected the puck and sent it to Toffoli for the shot.


Carter then beat Crawford at 14:44 with a wrister on a 2-on-1 break to make it 5-2 and scored an empty-net goal at 16:29 for the final margin. The five goals allowed in the third tied the mark for the most the Blackhawks had ever allowed in the third period of a Stanley Cup Playoff game.


"It's too many," Crawford said. "It's going to be tough to win a hockey game when you give up that many goals in a short amount of time. You can't be giving up that [many]. I don't know how many goals it was in the third. You're definitely going to lose a hockey game if you give up that many goals in one period."


Muzzin's goal during that second power play stuck out to Crawford afterward.


"We needed a big stop on the second [one]," he said. "The first power play they got one and we needed a big kill and they got another one."


The Blackhawks were ranked first in the NHL in penalty-killing coming into the game, having allowed four goals in 48 times shorthanded. They allowed two on four Kings power plays in Game 2.


"We were playing some really good hockey in the first half of the game," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "It turned around pretty quickly. That's a team that wants to win. They have a lot of experience at it and know what to do in a series like this. At the same time, we have to stay with it."



Quick robs Seabrook to set up Kings' Game 2 rally


CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings were desperate.


Already down two goals against the Chicago Blackhawks midway through Game 2 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday at United Center, the visitors knew they could not allow another goal if a rally was in the cards.


"Give up three against them, you're in trouble," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said afterward.


Yet the Kings were on the verge of allowing that backbreaking third goal. They were a mess in their own end, unable to get out of their own way.


Chicago was using its speed to push the Los Angeles defenders back, its patented stretch pass creating prime scoring chance after prime scoring chance. At one point, top defenseman Drew Doughty was caught by television cameras smashing his stick against the boards while he sat on the Kings bench. It was an outburst Doughty later admitted was the result of how lackluster the Kings' own-zone play was for the first 30 minutes of the game.


But Jonathan Quick, the Kings' all-world goalie, did what he does perhaps better than any other goalie in the NHL: He kept the Kings within striking distance, including with a game-changing save against Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook at 12:43 of the second period.


"That was a big save," Kings forward Tanner Pearson said. "It kept us in there. It could have been a game-changer. That gave us the momentum."


Less than six minutes later, the Kings scored a fluky goal, Mike Richards banking a pass off the skate of teammate Justin Williams, allowing the puck to trickle through the legs of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.


The Kings scored five times in the third period on their way to a 6-2 victory that changed the complexion of this best-of-7 series, which is tied 1-1.


By handing Chicago its first loss at United Center this postseason, the Kings salvaged an unlikely split and seized home-ice advantage when the series switches to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).


On the flight home in the early hours of Thursday, Quick will get more than a few hearty congratulations from his teammates, many of whom were still amazed that their goalie found a way to deny a seemingly sure goal by Seabrook on perhaps the most dangerous of the Blackhawks' many odd-man breaks.


Chicago forward Kris Versteeg carried the puck into the zone with Seabrook to his right. Versteeg made a beautiful saucer pass to hit Seabrook in stride. The defender had half a net to shoot at, but as he snapped his wrists, the opening disappeared in a sliding blur of white and black.


"He just passed it across; Seabrook is a right shot, so it was a different angle than if it was a one-timer opportunity," Quick said. "Just trying to get over to the post. [I was] fortunate to get a piece of it."


When it comes to Quick, he readily makes his own fortune, often benefitting the Kings in the process.



Jonathan Quick



Goalie - LAK


RECORD: 9-7

GAA: 2.70 | SVP: 0.912



"That's just a prime example of him being himself," Doughty said of the save against Seabrook. "It was a huge save for us."

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews admitted it was a huge save after the game, but argued that it did not dictate the outcome of the rest of the game.


Chicago coach Joel Quenneville argued his team was good at 2-0, even after the disappointment of not getting a third goal on that chance. He liked the game his team was playing, at least through the first 38 minutes.


But neither understands fully how these Kings feed off the brilliance of their goalie.


"Obviously, we all know what [Quick] brings to our team," said forward Jeff Carter, who had a hat trick in the third period. "We're down 2-0, 2-1, he's making saves like that. If we don't go out there and give it our all, try to get that next goal, we're letting him down.


"He saves our butts a lot. I guess we're happy that we could help him out tonight."


The Kings have made many in-game comebacks this postseason. After reviewing virtually every one on film, many Kings say they can point to one or more saves made by Quick that kept the game at a manageable state.


"Lots. Lots," Kings forward Jarrett Stoll responded when asked how many times Quick allowed the Kings to find their footing and rally this postseason. "He's so athletic; he is going to make those saves sometimes. That's what you need. You need those big saves to win a game. The Seabrook one was an example of that tonight, and we found a way to win in the third."


And now the Kings are no longer desperate.



Carter-Toffoli-Pearson line comes up big again


CHICAGO -- Before Game 2 of this Western Conference Final at United Center, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter dismissed a question about a line comprised of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli because he felt they weren't playing together as much as they seemed to be getting credit for.


Sutter mixes and matches his lines a lot in certain situations. He gives and withdraws playing time from certain players based on how they are performing. It's not a perfect fit to say Carter and the two rookies make up Los Angeles' "second line" because Pearson and Toffoli typically end up near the bottom of time on ice among the forwards.


All of that said, those three players had a huge impact on Game 2. Carter finished with a hat trick and four points, all in the third period, and that line accounted for two important insurance goals to put this one out of reach for the Chicago Blackhawks in a 6-2 victory Wednesday that evened the series at 1-1.


"I didn't really have to do too much for them," Carter said of his goals. "Stood in front of them for the first one. [Matt Greene] and Tanner made a great play on the second one.


"It was a good period, but didn't really have to do too much."


Carter eventually ended up with the hat trick, though his first goal was actually awarded to him last. He tipped a shot from Drew Doughty with the Kings on the power play early in the third period to tie the score at 2-2.


"Their penalty killers do a great job of getting in lanes," Carter said. "Their 'D' front a lot of pucks. It's tough to get them through. We got two pucks [through] tonight all game and they both ended up in the net. It's still something we need to improve on, but it's a good start."


After another power-play goal gave Los Angeles the lead, Carter and the kids took over. A Blackhawks shot attempt was blocked in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick, and the puck came to Carter in the high slot.


He skated with it out of danger and into the Blackhawks zone before firing a shot off goalie Corey Crawford. The puck bounded high into the air, and most of the players on the ice slowed down expecting it to hit the netting behind Crawford.


Pearson kept skating, and collected it before finding Toffoli cutting to the net for a goal and a 4-2 lead.


"I don't think they knew where it was," Pearson said. "So I saw it, I knew [Toffoli] would be in the slot somewhere so I just passed it out there and fortunately he was there and put it in."


Carter said, "It seemed like everybody kind of stopped. Tanner and Tyler made a great play to keep going. There was no whistle, so..."


Pearson made another nice play on the next goal. He chipped it off the wall in his own zone to Carter, who was set free on a 2-on-1 with Toffoli. He opted not to pass and ripped a shot past Crawford to make it a 5-2 lead before later adding an empty-net goal as well.


Carter had four points in a total of 14:52 in the third period. He tied an NHL playoff record for most points in a third period, and his three goals tied a Kings postseason record set by Tommy Williams on April 14, 1974, also against Chicago.


"It was definitely different [in the third period]," Carter said. "It seemed like they had us on our heels for pretty much the first two periods. I think that goal [late in the second] really got us going. You start to feel good about yourself, start to feel a little better."



Ramsay: Rangers rolling using all four lines


For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens , NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.


Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers .


Craig Ramsay doesn't hide his affinity for four-line hockey.


"I'm a huge believer in it," Ramsay told NHL.com.


What coach isn't? They love the ability to roll four lines, to rest their star forwards, and to watch their fourth-liners grind away minutes and eat away at the opposition's confidence.


Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien had that working in 2011, when they won the Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks, who were coached by Alain Vigneault.


Vigneault now has the New York Rangers thriving with a four-line brand of hockey. They're two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.


Ramsay said the four-line factor has been a major reason the Rangers have won five in a row, including the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens. He said it will continue to give the Rangers a chance to move on unless or until the Canadiens figure out how they can tire the Rangers' fourth line.


Game 3 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).


"The Rangers' fourth line at times is able to go out there and dominate play," Ramsay said. "They just keep throwing out one line after another that goes out there and plays a similar style. They get the puck in, get it past the defensemen, get it and try to keep it. They hold on to it. They're getting the defensemen involved.


"When your fourth line can go out there against anybody with no fear from them, and they're laughing as they're coming to the bench, having fun, it means the coach is confident in them."


Vigneault was forced to adjust his fourth line in Game 2 because Derick Brassard was injured. The coach moved Dominic Moore to center the third line. That pushed Brian Boyle from the left wing on the fourth line to center and gave Daniel Carcillo his turn in the lineup. The line of Carcillo, Boyle and Derek Dorsett combined for six shots on goal.


According to shot statistics compiled by extraskater.com, Carcillo, Boyle and Dorsett were plus-16 in 5-on-5 shots on goal for vs. shots on goal against (23-7). They were plus-15 in 5-on-5 shot attempts for vs. shot attempts against (31-16).


To put it in simpler terms, the Rangers had the puck the majority of time that line was on the ice.


"A guy like Boyle is really a factor. Dorsett goes out there and bangs around," Ramsay said. "They put so much pressure on Montreal's defense that it becomes just this continuous onslaught of 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, and it isn't about matchups as much as its about just rolling them over and letting them play. They play with so much enthusiasm and they're feeling really good about themselves.


"Montreal has to find a way to make them play in their own end. Montreal's top guys have to find a way to get out against a third and fourth line and make them play in their own end, show a flaw in their system. They haven't shown any flaws. They haven't made them work."


As a result, Ramsay said, the Rangers are not only feeling confident, but everyone who plays feels he's contributing to a win.


"It's a huge plus for a team because now everybody that dresses is part of the action and everybody feels good about it," Ramsay said. "The other players recognize the important role that these people are playing and they have fun with it. That's certainly what I'm seeing from the Rangers. They're having a lot of fun playing in these playoffs. They really think they can win."


Ramsay remembers seeing the same thing from Boston in 2011. He vividly recalls seeing and feeling the same way as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. Those teams won the Stanley Cup; the Rangers need six more wins.


"If you're trying to go through this whole thing with a three-line team, that becomes very difficult," Ramsay said. "These guys have to be able to go in there and play, and that's a huge part about what the Rangers are doing right now."


---


Related:


Ramsay: Kreider didn't mean to crash into Price

Ramsay: Subban, McDonagh are difference-makers

Timing back, Rangers' McDonagh finding elite level


NEW YORK -- New York Rangers center Derek Stepan can't help but smile and even laugh as he witnesses the recognition defenseman Ryan McDonagh is starting to receive from the media during the Eastern Conference Final.


Stepan knows why it's coming in droves now: McDonagh's six points against the Montreal Canadiens and eight in his past five Stanley Cup Playoff games (all wins), is a giveaway.


"It's well-deserved," Stepan said.


Stepan is thrilled for his teammate and close friend. He's proud too. But you can forgive him for not being surprised.


Six years of playing with McDonagh has given Stepan perspective on the defenseman that nobody else in the NHL has or can have. Eight points in five games, as impressive as that is, won't change the opinion Stepan long-ago formed on McDonagh, his former college teammate.


"I've seen this coming for a long time," Stepan said.


This refers to McDonagh's ascent into an exclusive category of NHL defensemen, the few who can be labeled "elite," which Stepan called him three times after practice in advance of Game 3 against the Canadiens on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).


There's no arguing this point with Stepan, or anyone associated with the Rangers. And there shouldn't be. They're right. Just ask the Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins.


McDonagh has three goals and five assists during the Rangers' five-game winning streak. He led New York with six points in its back-to-back wins at Bell Centre to start the conference final, a best-of-7 series it leads 2-0.


"I've been with [McDonagh] a long time," Stepan said. "He's never changed. He's always been this player. He got rewarded this season and the last five games with production, but this is the player that [McDonagh] has been since he's been here, and this time he's getting the recognition he deserves."


He is because of the production and the time of year. No one is denying that.


"But I certainly think if you go around and ask every guy in this room, they're going to tell you this is no surprise and this is the player we all see every single day," Stepan said.


That player put up career-highs in points (43), goals (14), assists (29), power-play goals (two), game-winning goals (four), and shots (177) during the regular season. McDonagh credits coach Alain Vigneault's system for allowing him to be an offensive force, something he couldn't be under former coach John Tortorella.


However, McDonagh also was a shell of himself in the first 11 games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


He sustained a shoulder injury with five games to play in the regular season. At first the injury limited his range of motion. When he rejoined the lineup at the start of the postseason, it was obvious the injury had eaten away at his timing.


McDonagh led the Rangers in ice time in each of the first six games of the first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he didn't do much of anything with all the minutes.


"Knowing [McDonagh], he probably came back a little too early," said Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, who is in charge of the defensemen. "If you do, you're fighting it. He may have had trouble sleeping; who knows? He's such a warrior that he won't tell much."


McDonagh, typically reserved when speaking about himself, reflected on his early postseason struggles Wednesday.


"I wasn't able to make the right reads at the pace we were playing," McDonagh said. "I was trying to force things when they were not there, not understanding situations in the game, when it's time to take a risk or time to peel back. It was more mentally just getting myself in the right frame of mind.


"It didn't happen right away. It didn't click."


He was fortunate the Rangers were winning and other defensemen stepped up.


Dan Girardi had a goal and an assist in Game 3 against the Flyers, a 4-1 victory. Marc Staal scored in Game 5 against Philadelphia, a 4-2 win. New York eliminated Philadelphia in seven games.


"I just knew over time I was going to try to find my game here to help the guys the best I can," McDonagh said. "We had guys stepping up … everybody making plays around me. Over time it helps you gain confidence because we're all working together."


McDonagh had no choice but to find his game after Game 4 against the Penguins, when it appeared the bottom had fallen out from under the Rangers. Pittsburgh had a 3-1 series lead and New York was coming off one of its worst playoff performances in recent memory.


Game 5 featured McDonagh at his best. He was skating, pinching, reading the play, getting involved in the offense without sacrificing his defensive responsibilities. He was superb, and was rewarded for it with a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win.



Ryan McDonagh



Defense - NYR


GOALS: 3 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 9

SOG: 29 | +/-: -2



Vigneault said after the game McDonagh was not injured and needed to play that way if New York was going to have a chance at coming back against Pittsburgh.

McDonagh has been brilliant ever since. The Rangers haven't lost. This is not a coincidence.


"He managed through the season to get to a very high level, close to some of the better [defensemen] in the League, then he got hurt and it took him a little while," Samuelsson said. "He hasn't really had many injuries to fight back from, and it's tough for any player to go through injuries, especially for a player like that, who is counted on in so many ways. Pretty much in all aspects of our game he's the first one out there.


"It's streaky that he's getting points now, but more than that his overall game is back to the level where it was."


You can tell by looking at the plays McDonagh is making, such as chipping a puck off the glass and into the zone instead of rimming it along the boards where it can get intercepted by an opponent.


"I'm just focusing on being a little more simple, not looking for direct passes every time," McDonagh said. "It's very tight checking in the playoffs, like we want to play, and sometimes you've got to just throw it to an area. Sometimes the glass is the best play."


Look at the pinches McDonagh is making into the offensive zone; his reads are spot-on, and he rarely, if ever, compromises himself because of the way he can skate.


"We're looking for our [defensemen] to join [the rush] whenever they can, but you have to be able to read it. He's really crisp in his reads," Samuelsson said. "He may read a pass in the neutral zone and step up on it to generate something from there. That's obviously confidence, but also being able to accelerate very quick. He's very physically blessed that way."


Samuelsson is talking about McDonagh's skating ability. It's the best part of his game.


"He's just such a powerful skater," Stepan said.


McDonagh's skating is why United States coach Dan Bylsma was comfortable putting him on the right side, his off side, alongside Ryan Suter at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. McDonagh had no hiccups in making the transition. Even the Rangers coaches were surprised when they saw it.


"We hadn't seen it much because we were so stacked on the right side, but it's been in our back pocket [since]," Samuelsson said. "He played a shift on the right side with Staal in the last game."


He did during a 4-on-4 sequence late in the first period.


"His skating ability … I mean, it's just fun to watch him play," Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. "He's so smooth. He works so hard and he does so many things right. There's just a lot you can learn from him. Even as a forward there's a lot I can learn."


Stepan doesn't have to learn anything more about McDonagh.


His perspective on the defenseman, gained during six years of playing with him, of friendship, is rock solid. No amount of production or recognition will change it. In fact, to Stepan it's actually kind of funny the rest of the hockey world only now is discovering what he long has known.


"I can sit here and pump [McDonagh's] tires all day," Stepan said. "His coming-out party might have been this season, but he's an elite player and he's going to be an elite player for a long time."


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