- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Three weeks removed from leading the Boston College men's hockey team to a national championship, New York Rangers rookie Chris Kreider sat at his dressing room stall with the team's MVP Broadway Hat atop his head, trying to explain to the throngs of reporters what his life has been like since.
From the decision to leave school and turn pro, to making his NHL debut in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, his first NHL goal (the
game winner) in Game 6 and then perhaps his best performance in Game 7, Kreider detailed the stunning turn of events.
But after hearing the boisterous crowd at Madison Square Garden chanting his name after he scored what would be the winner in the team's 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the 20-year-old winger admitted it was beyond anything he could have ever foreseen.
"It wasn't a moment I ever dreamed of," he said, "but it was still pretty surreal."
Recording his second game-winning goal in the past three contests, Kreider pulled up and unleashed a slap shot to beat Caps rookie goaltender Braden Holtby to snap a 1-1 tie at the seven-minute mark of the third period.
In a game dictated by defense, where scoring chances came few and far between, the crowd erupted for Kreider's first marker at the World's Most Famous Arena, chanting "Krei-der, Krei-der!" in appreciation.
"I got goose bumps, obviously," said Kreider, who is two days shy of his 21st birthday. "I was really tired after the goal, but I didn't feel so tired when they started chanting."
Ninety seconds after tallying his second goal of the playoffs (and his six-game NHL career), Kreider made a play to set up Brad Richards for a 3-1 Rangers lead.
"Forget about what he's doing on the ice," coach John Tortorella said. "The mental part of the game as far as him trying to make a difference every shift, it's really good stuff for a young kid."
When the Rangers inked him to an entry-level deal earlier this month, they wanted to see where he stood in terms of his development. Each game he has shown more, whether it's a better understanding of the team concept, a mastery of the details or the willingness to employ his trademark speed.
He has shown that he is nothing if not a quick study.
"Big difference," Richards said when asked about Kreider's confidence from his Game 3 debut in Ottawa to his first multipoint performance Saturday. "How could it not be? Quite a situation to be thrown into in Game 3. We needed to win and he had never played or really practiced with us so, you're seeing a little more Chris Kreider now than you did in Game 3."
And, the Rangers hope, there is more to come.