Commentary

Brian Boyle makes biggest play of all

The Rangers snuck past the Senators thanks to his backhander in the third period

Updated: April 17, 2012, 8:41 AM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

KANATA, Ontario -- Even as Brian Boyle made his way up a flight of stairs to the press conference room after the Rangers' 1-0 win Monday night, he wasn't immune from Senators fans' taunts. As he gripped the team's MVP Broadway hat in hand and made his way up to the podium, he shared the latest barb lobbed his way.

[+] EnlargeBrian Boyle
Andre Ringuette/NHLI/Getty ImagesBrian Boyle has been the difference-maker for the Rangers so far in this series.

"That guy said I [stunk]," he said, sounding amused.

The gritty center could not sway the fans during the game or after -- still upset with his rough treatment of defenseman Erik Karlsson in Game 1, they jeered him relentlessly -- but he was able to silence the Senators with his game winner 7:35 into the third.

Boyle went from Scotiabank Place's Public Enemy No. 1 to the Rangers' series savior with a backhander that beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson. Boyle recorded his third goal in as many games and eighth in the last 12 as the Rangers took a 2-1 lead in the series.

For a player who had been woefully snakebitten through long stretches this season, Boyle didn't appear to be rattled by the Senators fans' ire at all.

"Honestly, I was surprised," he said of the response he received in the series' first game in Ottawa. "If I'm the villain to them, that's good."

In a tight playoff series in which secondary scoring has been deemed essential, Boyle has delivered precisely when necessary. With big goals in all three games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the big man has proved invaluable.

"He's playing the right way. I think a lot of us can -- and a lot of us are -- following his lead," coach John Tortorella said. "That's what he's doing right now: He's leading."

Boyle had a monster game Saturday as well. Responding from an early beatdown from Ottawa's Matt Carkner -- retribution for Karlsson -- and a first-period fight with Sens tough guy Chris Neil, Boyle tallied the go-ahead goal before the Rangers fell in overtime.

He has been one of the team's most diligent workers in this first round, as well as one of its top performers.

"Overall, just my confidence with the puck has been better lately," he said. "Holding onto it, trying to make plays. The game has slowed down [for me] a little bit."

Boyle's goal was the only one surrendered in an otherwise phenomenal performance by Anderson. Both goaltenders were absolutely stellar in a thrilling match -- one that didn't devolve into the thuggery or violence that marred Game 2 -- but Vezina front-runner Henrik Lundqvist outdueled Anderson with a 39-save effort that left jaws gaping in the aftermath.

If Boyle was the heart and soul of the Rangers on Monday night, Lundqvist was, once again, the backbone. He blanked the Senators at home to earn his ninth shutout of the season and the 44th of his career.

The Rangers have come to not only expect but to rely upon performances like this from Lundqvist. And he did not disappoint on Monday.

"We have an identity that we have tried to cultivate in our locker room," Tortorella said. "Every time he plays, it starts with him."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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