BOSTON — Your average NHL hockey player doesn’t equate a Stanley Cup playoff game to an ancient practice that originated in Imperial China.
But Chris Kreider isn’t average. He’s a first round pick out of Boxford who’s as cerebral as he is gifted athletically and summed up last night’s Eastern Conference semifinal game quite accurately.
“Both teams like to try and beat their opponents by death by a million cuts, I think it is,” said Kreider, the New York Rangers rookie left wing, following his team’s 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1 at the TD Garden.
“You’re out there fighting through every single shift, it’s unbelievable. They’re a defense-first team that capitalizes on their opportunities and force turnovers. You’ve got two teams trying to chip away at one another; it’s an absolute dogfight.”
This is not Kreider’s first time at the NHL’s postseason dance. A year ago, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound speedster burst onto Broadway and shone brightly, joining the Rangers early on in the playoffs after helping lead Boston College to its second NCAA title in his three years. Playing beyond anyone’s expectations, he scored five goals and two assists as the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference final. In doing so, he set an NHL record for most playoff goals in one postseason by a player who had yet to skate in a regular season game; he’s also the only player in NHL history whose first two goals were game-winners in the playoffs.
This year has been markedly different for him. Touted as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate before the shortened NHL season began, the 22-year-old Kreider has gone through the growing pains that so many players, particularly those who crack the big leagues at such a young age, are almost predestined to experience (see: Hamilton, Dougie). He shuffled between New York and the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford throughout the season; producing 2 goals and an assist in 23 games with the Blueshirts. His most recent callup was the fourth time he’s been summoned from the minors.