We all know that, in order to be successful in the NHL playoffs, you need a good defense, timely goal scoring and a hot goalie to ride all the way to mid-June.
Sometimes, those clutch goals or key defensive plays are going to have to come from players not considered to be superstars because of the opposition shutting down the team’s key guys. It’s the unsung heros that come alive during the playoffs to help their teams be successful through the feverish grind of playoff hockey.
For the New York Rangers, three players have done just that through three games.
In just his rookie year still, 25-year-old Stu Bickel has done everything the Rangers coaching staff could ask of him. Playing in the bottom-six defensive pair most of the season, Bickel has not only bought into the team’s identity of blocking shots, he has also been a great teammate by sticking up for his fellow Rangers when needed.
Through three games, Bickel is only averaging 6:30 in ice time, but has blocked three shots—including a critical block midway through Game 3 that could have easily been a goal— and registered a plus-one rating.
Bickel has been reliable as a No. 5/No. 6 defenseman thus far. Not bad for a rookie defenseman not even on the team’s radar in September.
Picked off the New Jersey Devils‘ scrap heap earlier in the season, 25-year-old Anton Stralman took some time, but became one of the Rangers’ more reliable defenseman all season long. Noted for being an offensive guy, Stralman only finished with 18 points in 53 games.
However, it was Stralman’s defensive play that stood out, finishing with a plus-nine rating, 76 hits and 71 blocked shots while averaging 17:06 of ice time.
Through three playoff games, Stralman has continued to display steady stick work and the ability to make plays in his own zone— particularly in Game 3, making two crucial plays in the defensive zone that lead to Brian Boyle and the game’s only goal of the game. Not to forget, Stralman also scored his first career playoff goal in Game 2, has an assist, seven shots, two hits and four blocked shots.
He isn’t flashy or will wow you with skill, but Anton Stralman has been quietly good all season long and in the playoffs has a top-four defenseman.
If elevating your game in the playoff means scoring a goal in each game of the series thus far—including game-winners in Game 1 and Game 3—then Brian Boyle is having an out of body experience.
The last player to score a goal in the first three game of a playoff series was Sean Avery in 2008 against the New Jersey Devils. While not as polarizing (although, if you ask Sens fans, it may be a different story), Boyle has come to play in the playoffs and has arguably been the Rangers’ best forward through three games.
Aside from clutch goals, Boyle has been relied upon to win faceoffs. Through three games, Boyle has taken 64 draws—sixth most for a player in the playoffs—and is winning at a 48.3 percent pace.
We saw Boyle heat up towards the end of the regular season after an overall disappointing offensive year—scoring five goals in the remaining nine games—and has not only translated that into the postseason, but has built upon it to excel tremendously early in the playoffs.