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McIlrath records first NHL fight

12/16/2013

NEW YORK -- So this may not be the same Black-and-Blueshirts team of the past, but Sunday's 4-3 shootout win against Calgary win was a good indication that they still have a strong appreciation for the rough stuff.

The team's MVP Broadway Hat wasn't awarded to Benoit Pouliot, who scored the deciding goal in the seventh round of the shootout. Or to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who sealed the win with a stop on Mikael Backlund. Not even Chris Kreider, who notched the third-period equalizer to push the game into overtime.

After the game, the well-worn, sweat-crusted chapeau was perched firmly atop the head of rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who recorded his first NHL fight in the second period against Calgary's Brian McGrattan.

McGrattan, a bona fide NHL heavyweight with 69 regular-season fights under his belt, got the better of the 21-year-old prospect, but McIlrath's teammates were proud to see him handle himself so well in his first big scrap.

"Obviously, that fight was huge. He put himself out there in his first NHL fight and to fight someone of that caliber ... I personally don't know much about that side of the game, but that was impressive and I feel like it gets the group going," Kreider said.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound McIlrath, who racked up 115 penalty minutes in 24 games for the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack this season, said he was looking for it earlier in the game before McGrattan obliged.

"We started our surge before that," McIlrath said of the momentum swing that began when Stepan cut the Flames' lead in half during the first period. "But, I thought that kept the momentum in our favor, and the crowd got into it a little bit."

After the lengthy battle, McGrattan made a comment to McIlrath and both players were smiling as they separated.

"We just tapped each other and he said, 'Good job, kid.'" McIlrath said. "That put a smile on my face. To have a good tilt like that, no harm done, and get the boys going."

After the game, McIlrath was sporting a cut with two stitches below his left eye.

Vigneault said he wasn't sure what sort of bearing the fight had on the game but he was impressed with the youngster's willingness to stand up to someone of McGrattan's stature.

"I thought that was a very courageous thing to do," Vigneault said. "He did a good job of holding his own during that fight. I'm not really sure a fight, one way or the other, has that impact but I do think it brings a little emotion to the game and it certainly didn't hurt."