'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Under the pressure of Game 7, there's always an opportunity for new playoff heroes to be born. Some players shy away from pressure while others use it as fuel to reignite their game.
Derek Stepan looked lost during the early portion of the Rangers' seven-game thrilling series against the Senators. The confidence was zapped from his game and he was relegated to the Rangers' fourth line.
There wasn't any obvious sign that Stepan would break out until Game 6 when was paired with Rangers' captain Ryan Callahan and rookie sensation Chris Kreider. The line struck up an immediate chemistry and Stepan rediscovered his passing touch, something that he would take into Game 7.
Stepan alertly jumped onto a loose puck and found Marc Staal who streaked toward the net and beat Senators' net-minder Craig Anderson. It allowed the Rangers to draw first blood and electrified the Madison Square Garden crowd.
John Tortorella spoke about the way Stepan stepped up his game through sheer mental strength.
"It took him a little while but he's played three big games here now. For us to have a chance, we needed someone to get going. It was weighing on him, but he just found a way. I really feel he willed himself into getting his game going," Tortorella explained during his post-game press conference.
Callahan believed that Stepan was able to settle down as the series progressed.
"Last couple of games here, he's been playing great. For him, it's only his second playoff experience. He's obviously got a little bit of nerves going into it. I think he settled down and was a key part of these last two games," Callahan stated.
"He's played great. Obviously watching him the last couple of years (we know) what he can do with the puck and the plays he makes. He's had a huge couple games for us," Staal added.
Since returning in Game 6, Carl Hagelin's presence gave the Rangers a serious boost. Hagelin's impact isn't defined purely on points but rather the havoc he creates with his speed, his relentless forechecking and willingness to backcheck.
Tortorella is excited by the potential of the young Rangers, particularly Hagelin and Chris Kreider.
"I just lick my chops for the future with those two kids, and how they can skate, the speed that they bring," Tortorella said about the bright futures of Hagelin and Kreider.
Every game, Kreider further entrenches himself deeper into Tortorella's plans. He's shown a rare maturity for a kid fresh out of college, thrown into the pressures of the NHL playoffs.
"He has no fear, that's what I like about him. His biggest thing is his mindset. He's not here to test the waters, he's trying to make a difference. You saw where I had him at the end of the game. He deserved to be there," Tortorella revealed.
Callahan spoke about the instant chemistry shown by line-mates Kreider and Stepan.
"He's an easy guy to play with. For a young guy, he talks out there a ton. His size, the way he protects the puck, I think it fits in great with the way me and Steps have been playing and the way we play below the hash marks," Callahan said about Kreider.
"It's going to be scary to watch him in a couple years. For him to step in this in this situation and play the way he did and play the minutes he did, it says a lot." Callahan determined.
Stepan explained what makes Kreider successful despite his youth and his impact as a line-mate.
Staal also shared his thoughts on Kreider. "He's awesome. It's pretty impressive to see what he's been doing out there just coming out of college. He was really impressive tonight," Staal said.
"His confidence and his skating ability puts him in a good position. He's got a great shot and he's been better and better every game he's been in. That's a huge boost for us." Staal explained.
Kreider credited the veterans inside the Rangers' locker room for easing his adjustment period and spoke about the difference between playing in Game 7 and the Frozen Four Final with Boston College.
"It's a Game 7. It's one of the hardest games to win in all sports. Neither team wants to have their sticks taken away," he added.
The experience of winning their first Game 7 is something that Kreider, Hagelin and Stepan can build upon as more pressure-filled moments are sure to come as the Rangers progress through the playoffs.
Tortorella spoke about the benefits of winning a Game 7, particularly for some of the Rangers' youngsters.
"We're such a young group and we're still a really young team. To get these type of situations under your belt and have some success at least in this first round, I think it will bode very well for our young guys," Tortorella concluded.
How exciting are the Rangers talented kids and how important will they be to the Blueshirts' playoff run? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.
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