Kreider pushes Rangers to the NHL's Eastern Conference Final for the 2nd time in 3 postseasons


RALEIGH, N.C. — Chris Kreider had just helped the New York Rangers finally finish off the Carolina Hurricanes with a huge third-period performance when he was asked what it meant to him considering his long run with the franchise.

He paused, then smiled.

“You’re going to hate this answer,” Kreider said, drawing laughter from reporters before adding a deflective response.

“It means we get to play more hockey.”

Kreider almost single-handedly ensured that with his final-period hat trick, which helped the Presidents’ Trophy winner rally to close out the Hurricanes in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series. It was fitting, too, considering his status as the longest-tenured Ranger on the roster — one who has experienced the high of playing in a Stanley Cup Final but also lean years of missing the postseason.

Now, Kreider and the Rangers are back in the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three seasons.

“That is just a monster third period,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said after Thursday’s 5-3 win. “I mean, he put it on his back. He really delivered. It was more than him, but at the end of the day, we needed to score goals. And this is what he does.”

The 33-year-old forward who has played his entire 12-year career with the Rangers scored three straight goals after his team trailed 3-1 entering the final period. It did more than just win a single game; it rescued the Rangers from growing pressure as they went from being up 3-0 in the best-of-7 series to losing two straight and coming within 15 minutes of facing a Game 7.

It was also reminiscent of famed captain Mark Messier’s “guarantee” game in 1994, when he had a third-period hat trick in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against New Jersey after promising the Rangers would force a seventh game. The Rangers went on to win the series and their most recent Stanley Cup title that season.

Kreider’s winner came when he got position on Jalen Chatfield at the top of the crease and tipped in Ryan Lindgren’s pass to make it 4-3 at the 15:41 mark. That marked his 47th career postseason goal for the Rangers, a run that includes scoring a goal in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final during a five-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

“First of all there’s a reason why he has been here his whole career: he’s done something right,” said Mika Zibanejad, who centers the top line that features Kreider. “Just the way he’s been on the ice, off the ice, the way he prepares himself, the way he is as a teammate. I think he knows this place in and out obviously better than anyone.”

Kreider thrived in playing all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his career, scoring 39 goals for the second-highest output of his career (he had 52 in 2021-22) and 75 points. He ranks third in the league with 52 power-play goals over the past three regular seasons while his plus-59 rating ranks 15th among all NHL forwards in that span.

He’s now tied for fourth in the postseason with a team-high seven goals, and he’s one of five Rangers with at least 10 points in the playoffs. He’s also had at least one point in seven of 10 playoff games entering the next round against the Boston-Florida winner.

While Kreider didn’t seem interested in diving deeply into the significance of his own performance, his teammates in the locker room were more than happy to do it instead — including Artemi Panarin jokingly telling reporters that “he’s terrible” when asked about Kreider.

“He took over the game,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “He’s shown the ability to do that at times. A lot of the guys in here call him ‘The Horse’ and that’s what he is.”

Kreider played 18:40 of ice time with 23 shifts and finished with seven shots on goal.

Kreider’s first goal came at the 6:43 mark when he jammed the puck through against the left skate of Frederik Andersen, who had stopped Zibanejad near the right post as Zibanejad skated in.

Kreider followed by redirecting a shot by Panarin on the power play to tie it at 3 at the 11:54 mark, marking the Rangers’ first score with the man advantage since Game 2 after coming up empty on nine straight power plays.

“It was clutch,” forward Vincent Trocheck said. “I think we were a little down on ourselves after the second period there. Obviously we didn’t love the way we played in the first two periods. Whenever you’re in a spot like that you need your big players to come up big, and Chris did that tonight.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl



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