'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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To some Rangers fans, towering checking line forward Brian Boyle is an easy target.
During his 28-game goalless drought, Boyle became a 6-foot-7 piñata as fans bashed away at his weaknesses. A dissatisfied a faction of Rangers fans voiced their unhappiness at his lack of finish, slow skating stride and a perceived inability to make full use of his tremendous 244-pound frame.
Think clearly before you bash Boyle again. All season he has proved his worth as an expert penalty killer, faceoff specialist and a spirited, all-for-the-cause character.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault effusively praised Boyle on Monday morning before the Blueshirts' meeting with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Brian, what he does, when you talk about contributions through the lineup, you need that," Vigneault said. "Boyle has done a good job for us in helping us kill penalties and he's found other ways to contribute."
That was before Boyle went on to score a goal that pumped life into Madison Square Garden. With the Rangers trailing Columbus 3-1 early in the third period, Boyle collected a rebound and scored his second goal in two games.
It might have been the loudest MSG sounded all season. Boyle's goal lit a fire under his teammates to pull even in the third period and find the collective strength to force overtime.
"It was a big goal," teammate Rick Nash said. "We needed it early on in the period. It definitely gained us some momentum in the shifts after. He's one of the good faceoff guys, good penalty killer. He's a big man who can get in on the forecheck. He definitely had a good night."
Boyle logged 2:41 on a 3-for-3 Rangers penalty kill and won 60 percent of his faceoffs, some of which were crucial wins in defensive zone situations.
The Rangers went on to lose 4-3 in a shootout, but they would have never gotten the chance at the skills competition without Boyle's determined penalty killing efforts.
Boyle stayed on the ice for the final minute of a 4-on-3 Blue Jackets' overtime power play and blocked shots with reckless abandon, doing the grunt work needed to protect the tie score.
"On the 3-on-4 at the end, he was obviously big for us, blocking shots and doing the hard work," Anton Stralman said.
Boyle is the unsung hero of the Rangers. He doesn't have the letter "A" stitched above his heart, but he is undoubtedly one of the respected veteran leaders on this team.
He is an individual who young players gravitate toward in the locker room at MSG Training Center in Tarrytown. Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, among others, often seek out his advice and lean on his experience.
Boyle holds court in his section of the locker room as he cracks jokes with Miller, Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. He's respected, yet he also keeps things loose.
He'll engage with reporters about a variety of topics, including his beloved New England Patriots, fantasy football and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Boyle will chat about movies and quote lines from his some of his favorite films, like "The Princess Bride" and "Step Brothers."
When the cameras aren't rolling, Boyle will do a little two-step dancing when "DJ Del Zotto" gets the playlist going. Just imagine the hulking Boyle singing along to Montell Jordan's old-school R&B jam "This Is How We Do It."
There are so many positive character traits that Boyle brings to this Rangers team on and off the ice, probably too many to mention in a single column.
Somewhere along the line, Rangers fans began to get unrealistic and expect too much from Boyle.
It was probably after he had the series of his life against the Ottawa Senators during an emotional and highly-charged 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
He went on an incredible surge, scoring goals in three consecutive games. Boyle was finishing powerful checks, scoring big goals and becoming the target of Senators players and public enemy No. 1 among Ottawa fans.
That series might be remembered as the high point of Boyle's career with the Rangers, though, to be fair, it's too early to say.
One thing that certain is he loves it here in New York and his teammates appreciate all the intangibles that Boyle brings to the table.
He's someone who understands the uniqueness of playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and the honor that comes with pulling on the Rangers' Original Six sweater.
"How blessed are we to be able to do it here in this city? It's kind of surreal sometimes," Boyle said in March 2012 after the Rangers' final regular season home game. "I have to pinch myself. We're fortunate to be here."
Perhaps the segment of Rangers fans who once derided Boyle will grow to appreciate who he is rather than picking at his shortcomings.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.
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