- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Chris Kreider wasn't the only youngster to step up for the Rangers in the team's 2-1 win over the Senators in Game 7 Thursday night. Derek Stepan contributed another impressive performance to cap off a first-round series that started off slow for the 21-year-old center.
Following up on Kreider's terrific play to force a Senators turnover, Stepan made a beautiful pass to find Marc Staal at the left circle and set up the team's crucial first goal at 4:46 of the second.
With the assist, Stepan recorded his fourth point in two games. The second-year pivot finished with a goal and two assists in the Rangers' 3-2 win Monday in Ottawa to avoid elimination and bring the series back home to New York.
"It took him a little while but he has played three good games here now," coach John Tortorella said. "That was very important for us. To have a chance we need someone to get going and it was weighing on him, but he found a way."
With Marian Gaborik disappearing for most of the series, the emergence of Stepan in the latter half has been all the more vital.
Stepan struggled in the first four games of the best-of-seven set against the Senators. But after being held off the scoresheet and demoted to the fourth line, he turned the corner in Game 5.
"I think that was a key point for me in my short playoff career," he said. "I felt Game 5, I was over the puck more. That was a big stepping stone for me as a player."
Stepan earned back Tortorella's trust with that improvement and centered the team's most effective line in the series finale between Kreider and captain Ryan Callahan.
"I really feel he willed himself to get his game going," Tortorella said. "It certainly was very important. That was a great line for us, him, Kreider and Cally."
After 10 straight playoff games without a point, Stepan can take some confidence for himself and the team into Round 2 when they face the Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"It's a good accomplishment," he said. "It was a good test for us. We don't want to get too high on it, but we want to know we did a good job and learn from it and try to refocus and get ourselves ready for Round 2."
4dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald