As the Rangers prepare to vanquish Tampa Bay Friday night at The Garden, kudos are being well-distributed on Seventh Avenue.
The recipients are the usual suspects and — in this case — well-deserving of thank you bows.
That’s because each of the center-stage heroes valiantly contributed to the Rangers rebound in the Eastern Conference Final, which is knotted at three games. They include the following Game 6 aces:
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: He remained dominant and focused when he had to be — until the 7-3 game turned into a runaway. The singular difference between the winners and losers was goaltending. There’s no indication that Tampa’s Ben Bishop will become a Vezina Trophy winner overnight.
- DERICK BRASSARD: The gifted center admitted that he was a non-factor in Game 5. His hat trick at Amalie Arena — and post-game comments — suggest that he’s thirsting for another big, series-deciding game for himself in the clincher.
- RICK NASH: All along, The Big Fella’s critics wanted more than good play; they wanted goals and, at last, they are coming at appropriate times. He’s leading his teammates to “The Paint,” where Bishop conveniently gifts them with rebounds — and goals.
- J.T. MILLER: Last Fall, the game’s bible,The Hockey News, rated the Ohio-born center first among the Blueshirts “Top 10 Prospects.” Miller earned his right to the Rangers, averaging over a point a game in Hartford. J.T.’s performance Tuesday proves that he has fulfilled his NHL notices.
If Miller’s ascent proves anything, it underlines this point; Alain Vigneault‘s stickhandlers are one win away from the Final as much because of the club’s unsung heroes as they are the marquee names such as Lundqvist.
In the playoffs, any team’s foot soldiers are as important to success as infantry is vital to an army’s successful offensive.
That’s why victory in Game 7 will be as much the responsibility of this Unsung Sextet as the more famous fellows:
1. TANNER GLASS: The Regina, Saskatchewan native has proven to be much more than just a tough hombre. And he is tough in the right places. More than that, the left winger rounds out the fourth line as a utility ace.
2. DOMINIC MOORE: Once written off as a “former NHLer,” Moore’s comeback symbolizes all that’s good about the resilient Rangers. A ubiquitous force, he kills penalties, wins face-offs and remains a constant inspiration.
3. KEVIN KLEIN: Rebounding from injury has been a long, slow process for this two-way defenseman whose shot remains one of the best-kept secrets — except among enemy goalies — in the NHL. His game should continue to improve.
4. JESPER FAST: No Swedish meatball, this unsung ace. If ever there was an unsung skater who deserves the label “Mister Positive Charisma Quotient,” this clever right wing is — more than anything — dependable. Considering that he debuted in the NHL this season, his value has orbited in the playoffs more than anyone expected.
5. JAMES SHEPPARD: Talk about an outstanding late-season get. Glen Sather‘s acquisition of the former San Jose Shark has noticeably fortified the Rangers’ balance among the four forward lines. In a clutch contest, as Game 6, Sheppard more than demonstrated his worth.
6. KEITH YANDLE: Once the leading point-getter in Phoenix, this deadline arrival may have come with too big a build-up. And that accounted for a less-than-raucous reception in earlier playoff rounds. But while the accolades are heaped on the Ryan McDonagh–Dan Girardi duet, a hearty song or two should be warbled in this Boston native’s way.
With an extra day off, the opposing coaches have returned to their drawing boards preparing for the final act.
Let by their articulate leader, Jon Cooper, the Bolts have fooled us before into thinking that they’ll crumble like a broken Legoset. Yet, they’ve come back to make The Garden seem like home.
“We’re going to respond the same way we have every time our backs are against the wall,” Cooper insists. “It’s happened all year.”
Or as Mister Inconclusive Philosopher likes to say, Maybe yes, maybe no. We’ll see.