Informed on Sunday that he’d be replacing Carl Hagelin in the lineup, Chris Kreider had a night to think about making his NHL debut in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. But there was little the prized prospect could do to prepare himself for what to expect.
Playing in his first professional game in front of a playoff-juiced Ottawa crowd only nine days after leading Boston College to an NCAA championship, Kreider took a little time to adjust. After an exhausting first shift with the team’s top line of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the former first-round pick settled in as the game progressed and showed promise.
“That’s a h--- of a spot we’re putting the kid in,” said coach John Tortorella. “He certainly shows he can skate in the league, we know that. ... There are some things he needs to work on, but he’s in a h--- of a spot, so I’m really happy with the way he played.”
Scratched for the first two games of the series, Kreider gained the chance to play Monday with Hagelin serving the first game of a three-game suspension. The Boxford, Mass., native, who decided to forego his senior season at BC and sign with the Rangers last week, seemed floored by the experience.
“It’s obviously a great opportunity,” he said. "I don’t think I thought coming into this that I would’ve been in the situation I was in tonight, but it was a great opportunity and I’m really thankful for it.”
The 20-year-old winger finished the game with one shot and one hit in 11:11 of ice time over 13 shifts. With the bench shortened in the third, Tortorella had Kreider sit back and watch as the Rangers preserved the lead built on Brian Boyle's third-period marker -- the game’s lone goal.
What did he learn?
“What it takes to win at this level, more than anything,” he said. “The way guys bought in, the way they’ve bought in all season. The way they blocked shots, the way they play in the [defensive zone], the way they get in lanes, get pucks out. It’s a winning brand of hockey and something I was able to see from the bench in the third.”
The time spent watching his new teammates battle to swing the series in their favor also gave him time to rue a Grade-A scoring chance in front of Anderson with less than a minute remaining in the second period.
When asked how long he dwelled on the missed opportunity, he joked:
“I’m still thinking about it.”