It won’t be tough for Chris Kreider to look back and recall his first NHL goal, because it was one of utmost importance to a desperate Rangers squad hell-bent on avoiding elimination.
With the Rangers leading the Senators 2-1 in the second, Kreider buried a beautiful cross-ice feed from linemate Derek Stepan to record what would ultimately be the clincher in the team’s 3-2 series tying win over the Senators in Ottawa.
The monumental marker was a surreal moment for the recently-signed Kreider, who has continued to improve since his daunting transition from college hockey to NHL playoffs less than two weeks ago.
“I think I’ll look back on it and obviously be extremely happy and able to smile, but what’s important is we were able to come away with a win,” said Kreider, who signed with the Rangers two days after leading Boston College to a national championship earlier this month.
The 20-year-old winger was promoted to the team’s second line with Stepan and captain Ryan Callahan during Game 6 and held his own in 10:46 of ice time over 19 shifts.
Kreider has impressed his teammates and coaching staff with his quiet maturity in adjusting to a tough situation -- he was thrown into the fire to make his NHL debut in Game 3 with Carl Hagelin serving a three-game suspension -- and Monday he displayed a precocious finishing ability with his game–winner as well.
“I’ve been saying since he got here -- he has a high maturity level. It’s helped with this whole process,” said Stepan who led the team with a goal and two assists. “He’s been put in a role that he’s embraced and he’s using his legs, which makes it a lot easier for me and [Callahan].”
Part of Kreider’s adjustment curve has been adapting to the high standard of play at the NHL level and the expectations that follow. Monday he learned what that entails when a team is backed against the wall and facing elimination.
“It’s a cornered dog, I guess,” Kreider said of the mentality. “It’s definitely something you take a mental picture of -- the intensity that guys brought and the way they played.”
He may be new to the team, but if Monday’s comeback was any indication, he likes what he has seen.
“I had a general idea of how they played and what type of team they are,” he said. “but just being in the dressing room it’s hard not to fall in love with this group, just the way they work and the way they commit to each other.”