'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
The bigger the game, the better Rangers center Derick Brassard plays. Ever since the Rangers fell into a 3-1 series deficit, Brassard has made vital contributions as the Blueshirts have climbed out of a backs-against-the-wall situation to pull even with the Penguins ahead of Tuesday's do-or-die Game 7.
Brassard has caught fire of late, registering four points in his past two games. The 26-year-old center put in a monster performance in Game 5. Brassard scored two goals, registered one assist and delivered a team-leading six hits. He followed his tremendous Game 5 performance by scoring an all-effort second-period goal in Game 6.
Aside from the clutch play and sensational acrobatics of all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Brassard has been the Rangers' MVP this series. Teammates recognize Brassard as a vital cog in the Blueshirts' machine.
"He's been a guy we've counted on all year long to bring offense and score goals," alternate captain Marc Staal said. "Him and his line have been great all playoffs here. Derick is absolutely a guy that we need. He's played great."
The deciding game of this series will unfold at the raucous Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Intense road atmospheres do not faze Brassard. This series, Brassard became the first Ranger since 1996 to score two game-winning goals on the road in a single series. The last Ranger to accomplish this feat was fan-favorite Adam Graves.
In two career Game 7s, Brassard has notched three points. Staal describes Brassard as a player who thrives under the most intense spotlight.
"We've had two elimination games. He's been the guy who's stepped up and has played great," Staal said. "I think he's someone who thrives on that. There's no bigger stage than a Game 7 in the second round. It would be great if he can pop another couple for us."
Brassard's in-sync line, consisting of Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello, has contributed a total of 27 points in 10 combined regular season and playoff games against the Penguins this season. Brassard and Zuccarello became the first Rangers teammates to tally at least three points in a road playoff game since Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky in 1997.
Defenseman John Moore came to New York in the same four-player trade that brought Brassard to the Rangers. Moore admits that it's exciting to watch the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line in action.
"They've had some fun sequences during the regular season and playoffs," Moore said. "They're all on the same page. When they're clicking, it's fun to watch. They can do some really pretty things with the puck."
Staal praised Brassard's professional approach, inquisitive nature and work habits. Brassard is player who is truly focused on reaching his full potential.
"He loves the game," Staal said. "He loves learning the game, asks a lot of questions, prepares himself every day the right way. It's a sign of a great professional and it's been paying off for him here."
NASH ON BRASSARD: 'HE'S A STUDENT OF THE GAME; YOU CAN TELL THAT HE HAS A TRUE PASSION FOR IT'
Rick Nash is one of many Rangers teammates who has played with Brassard in New York and Columbus. Nash feels that Brassard's biggest improvement is his development into a true two-way center.
"I've seen Derick since he came into the league," Nash said. "His game has really matured. I think his defensive game has really matured. He's a good two-way player now, and it shows offensively."
Nash describes Brassard as a student of the game, whose passion for the game is evident.
"He's got a love for the game," Nash said. "He's a guy that when you ask him about hockey, he knows all the stats, knows all the systems, all the different players. He's student of the game. You can tell that he has a true passion for it."
That passion was on full display in Game 6, as Brassard scored a goal that summed up his full-hearted desire. Brassard kept whacking away at a loose puck in Marc-Andre Fleury's crease and reached out to score with a baseball swing. Perhaps his summer league hardball games in Ottawa are paying off.
"He's had some big goals for us this year, and also in the playoffs," Moore said. "You look at that goal last night -- that's all heart and all effort. He went into the paint and found a way to get that in. He definitely leads by example. He's one helluva hockey player and is as skilled as they come."
Derek Dorsett has watched Brassard's development closely from the very start of his professional career. Before arriving together in New York, Dorsett and Brassard were teammates in the minors, before each made the jump to the NHL with Columbus. The duo even played together during the lockout with Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Hockey League.
"He's a student of the game," Dorsett said. "He wants to do well at all times. He's always preparing himself. Since the move from Columbus, he's really come into his own and become an elite player in this league. I think he's proven to a lot of people that he is that elite player. I couldn't be more happy for him."
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
You May Also Be Interested In These Stories
for more features.