When prognosticators discussed who would be the key to the New York Rangers/Ottawa Senators Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, the usual suspects were expected. Names like Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson were good bets to make the biggest difference in the series due to their supreme offensive abilities.
But over the first three games of the series, the unlikely star that has emerged is none other than Brian Boyle, both due to the offense that he has produced as well as the controversy that has surrounded him.
It’s not easy for someone in Boyle’s shoes to be overlooked, but that’s often the case with the Hingham, Massachusetts native. Despite playing all 82 games over the last two seasons, the 6 foot 7 Boyle usually bides his time on the third and fourth line while other players get the glory, and playing time, ahead of him.
Boyle did put up 21 goals during the 2010-11 season, dwarfing his career total of goals by 11 in just one season, but this past season that output dropped all the way to 11 as he endured stretches of 14, 22, and 15 games without scoring a goal at various points.
However, in this series, he has come alive with a goal in each of the three games so far. His goal less than three minutes after Gaborik’s tally in Game 1 turned out to be pivotal, his go-ahead goal in Game 2 would have stood as the game-winner if the Rangers could have held on for the win, and of course his third period marker in Game 3 was the difference as Henrik Lundqvist’s sterling 39-save shutout led the Rangers to victory.
But Boyle’s contributions are hardly just limited to offense for the Rangers. He has also taken on the unlikely role as “Official Villain to the Entire Ottawa Senators And Their Fanbase.”
Boyle’s constant prodding of Karlsson in Game 1 incensed the Senators to the point that they decided to dress Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner, two players not exactly known for their offensive ability, in Game 2. After Boyle delivered a hard, but clean, check to Karlsson early in Game 2, Carkner took it into his hands to earn his one minute of ice time by taking a run at Boyle before raining several blows upon him even after he was down on the ice. This blatant move by Carkner was recognized by the NHL as dirty and he was given a one game suspension for his actions (though somehow, this was seen as not quite as blatant as Carl Hagelin’s elbow, but that’s an entirely different story.)
After Game 2, the Legend of Boyle grew to new levels. Certain Canadian-based NHL analysts, such as former Ranger Anson Carter, dubbed Boyle’s Game 1 actions as a “mugging” while Carkner himself told Erin Nicks, Ottawa’s correspondent for NHL.com that “Boyle is a big guy, and I expected him to fight.” Apparently Boyle’s 59 penalty minutes during the regular season earned him a reputation.
“I’m just trying to contribute in all facets and playing some good minutes.” Boyle told the Globe and Mail while speaking to an unlikely swarm of Canadian reporters in Ottawa. “Do the physical stuff, playing defensively sound, killing penalties and contributing offensively. Those are all responsibilities when you get to play those minutes and you have the opportunity to do that.”
During Game 3, Boyle was booed every time he touched the puck by Ottawa’s fanbase. It didn’t work, as Boyle scored the only goal of the game, but it proved to be an interesting subplot nonetheless. Booing of players whenever the puck touches their stick is commonplace treatment for stars in many Canadian cities, especially in Winnipeg and Montreal, but for someone like Boyle, whose playoff beard has drawn comparisons ranging from “V” from “V for Vendetta” to Dr. Gonzo from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas“, to receive the kind of treatment normally reserved for players such as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, is quite a departure from the norm.
But then again, little has been normal about the type of series Boyle has had thus far for the Rangers. And if the Rangers have their way, that won’t end any time soon.