The New York Rangers leveled their First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday, with a 4-2 win in Pittsburgh. There are a lot of things that come with splitting the away leg of a matchup: The Rangers have a chance to take a stranglehold of the series if they can sweep at home, the confidence that comes from getting a win on the road and the new-look defense holding their own against a strengthened Penguins team.
You try to take away what you can from each game, since a series is so short even if it runs seven games. You build on what you did right, adjust what you did wrong and hope you find the right combination before it's too late.
For the Rangers, their youth has answered the call of needing to step up to help push the Rangers over the edge.
Brady Skjei has looked great in his first two games, to the tune of a 54.2% corsi for at even strength. He also picked up his first career NHL point in the Game Two win and is seeing power play and penalty kill time. Skjei -- the most touted prospect not named Pavel Buchnevich in the system -- has replaced Ryan McDonagh, and while Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle have taken the biggest parts of that responsibility, Skjei has seen time up and down the lineup and has succeeded.
Dylan McIlrath, who could be a healthy scratch tomorrow for Raphael Diaz, sported a 57+ corsi for in Game Two despite just seeing nine minutes. Alain Vigneault can make the "he doesn't have the speed and/or skating ability to rely on" argument all he wants if McIlrath does sit, but that doesn't hold much water when he's got Tanner Glass on the ice to protect a lead. I digress.
J.T. Miller had three assists in Game Two, including a stupid good fake pass to the point that had Phil Kessel juked out of his jock strap before threading a perfect pass over to Mats Zuccarello for the eventual game-winning goal. We talked about how Miller was going to be a bigger piece of the Rangers' X-factors in this series, and he's stepped up to prove that.
Derek Stepan (read the above linked story, we're still calling him youth) scored two goals in Game One. Chris Kreider scored his first goal of the playoffs, too. Outside of Jesper Fast (47.2% corsi in a more defensive role), the Rangers youth (Miller, Stepan, Skjei, McIlrath, Kreider and Stepan) are all above a 50% corsi. That includes Stepan picking up some bigger defensive assignments, and Miller moving himself up the depth chart.
The defensive success is the most important thing here, though. Despite Vigneault talking about how Dan Girardi is getting better, and hinting that once he's fully healthy he'll be back in the lineup, the Rangers are, sadly, a better team with him in the press box.
We don't know when McDonagh is getting back but it's safe to say Skjei has earned a long look this postseason. Since he's the fastest of any of the defenseman the Rangers have, and he has a really good knack for jumping into the rush properly, he appears to be a good option for the Rangers moving forward. We'll see how this plays out with Girardi moving forward.
Regardless, the Rangers need to be thrilled with what they're getting from their youth. They were a big part of the Game Two win and they need to be a big part moving forward, too.
Thankfully, many of them have been answering the call all year.