XHockey Extra – May 21st

If Chris Kreider, Dwight King and Stephen Gionta are superstitious at all, you can bet that even though they may have staked a claim to a permanent home in the NHL with their performances in these playoffs, they will not be doing anything differently any time soon. While they all took very different routes to the NHL, all three have emerged as key players for their teams.

Kreider joined the New York Rangers this spring after finishing his collegiate career at Boston College. A 1st round draft pick (19th overall) in the 2009 draft, he made his NHL debut when he was added to the lineup in Round 1 versus the Ottawa Senators after Carl Hagelin’s three-game suspension. In just his fourth career game, Kreider scored the game-winner in Game 6 in Ottawa to send the series back to MSG for a seventh and final game, which New York would win to move on to Round 2. The Rangers moved past the Washington Capital in the next series, which would also go seven games, and now they hold a 2-1 lead on the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.

He felt his game had slipped slightly in the Washington series, but he has been a key forward for New York in the Conference Final, scoring in all three games so far to give him 5 goals in 15 career games (all in the playoffs). When asked by Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada if he still had work to do, the rising young star explained that he needs to work on his shot blocking – saying that several of Mark Fayne’s point shots had found their way past him. Clearly, Kreider has bought into head coach John Tortorella’s “block everything” game plan!

For Los Angeles forward Dwight King, the coaching change that brought Darryl Sutter to the Kings has helped him find a regular home in the LA lineup. A 4th round pick (109th overall) in the 2007 draft, the 22-year old from Meadowlake, Saskatchewan played in 6 regular season games last year, but did not register a point. The former Lethbridge Hurricane (WHL) split his first professional season (2009-2010) between the Monarchs and the Ontario Reign of the ECHL; spending last year in the AHL (minus the 6 games with the Kings).

Called up in February of this year to join Los Angeles, King played 27 regular season games, scoring 5 goals and adding 9 assists. It has been in the playoffs though that he has begun to find his NHL game. At a time of year when unsung heroes are integral to moving on to the next round, King is one of several Kings that has filled that roll admirably, averaging just under twelve minutes of ice time each game. His 5 playoff goals has him tied for second on the team with Anze Kopitar, two behind Dustin Brown – pretty good company to be in for a rookie forward.

In New Jersey, Stephen Gionta is making the most of his fourth line minutes with the Devils. His path to the NHL is a great example of the passion, determination and perseverance needed to reach the world’s best league. The 5’7 forward is another former Boston College player, but he was not drafted in the first round like Kreider – Gionta signed on with the Albany River Rats (the Devils AHL affiliate at the time) as a free agent at the end of the 2005-2006 season. During his fifth full season in the organization, he made his NHL debut, playing for 12 games in the 2010-2011 season.

This year, he joined the Devils for the final game of the regular season, scoring his first NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators and it proved to be the game winner. Playing on the fourth line in all 15 playoff games for New Jersey, he has been part of the solid forecheck that has pinned the opposition in their own zone repeatedly in the first three rounds. The Rochester, New York native is making a case for a full-time position with the team next season and while he has not scored since the first round series against the Florida Panthers, don’t be surprised if he puts one past Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers in the current series. He has the work ethic needed to be successful at this time of year!

Kings of the West? Not yet:

The Los Angeles Kings are attempting to make an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final and they missed an excellent opportunity to eliminate the Phoenix Coyotes in yesterday’s game. It marked the first time since a Game 4 loss to Vancouver in the first round that the Kings allowed consecutive goals by their opponent – they lost Sunday’s game 2-0. Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period sent out a tweet with the question he posed to Dustin Penner after the game. When asked if they let the Coyotes ‘off the hook’, Penner responded, “We learned a lesson today.”

With a trip to Phoenix now in their future for a Game 5 that many thought would not happen, given how the Kings had outplayed the Coyotes in the first three games, you can almost guarantee that head coach Darryl Sutter will remind his players the importance of getting teams out of the way when you have a chance. He will remind them of the ‘lesson’ they just learned… The Kings are 11-2 in this year’s playoffs, but you never want to give an opponent a glimmer of hope in a series. Sutter’s team will regroup before Tuesday night’s game and attempt to finish off Phoenix for a second time in this series, earning their 12th win and joining the 1993 squad as the only LA Kings team to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Rangers Look Ready for Another 7 Game Series:

The New York Rangers are blocking every shot they can, relying on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to stop the ones that do get through and taking advantage of their opponents few mistakes. It took seven games to knock off the Ottawa Senators, another seven to eliminate the Washington Capitals and they appear ready for another seven game series with the Devils if that’s what it takes.

All it took in Saturday’s game was a tiny, two minute window of opportunity to open up and the Rangers scored two quick goals before eventually taking a 2-1 series lead by winning the game 3-0. The Devils out-shot the Rangers for the second game in a row, but could not get one past “The King”.

As head coach Peter DeBoer said, “We’re not the first team Henrik Lundqvist has done this to…”

The Devils and Rangers play the all-important Game 4 tonight. A New Jersey win and we could be looking at another seven game series. If the Rangers win and take a 3-1 lead in the series, they might finally get a day off after all.

That’s it for today’s XHockey Extra – see you back here on Monday!

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