NEW YORK - Chris Kreider fidgeted with the black lid he was donning, the chapeau handed out to the New York Rangers player of the game after each Broadway Blueshirt victory.
“It’s a little small,” he admitted.
Unlike his impact, which has been huge.
The headpiece he was wearing is known inside the New York Rangers dressing room as The Broadway Hat, which was purchased by Brad Richards during the team’s early season trip to Europe to honour the guy who makes the biggest splash in the course of a win.
At this rate, Kreider might be keeping the thing permanently.
For a kid like this to score his second game-winning goal in the span of just three playoff outings is the kind of Cinderella story you might only find under the bright lights and beckoning stages of Broadway, which is just a short breakaway from Madison Square Garden.
As Frank Sinatra once said of New York: “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere ...”
Ol’ Blue Eyes was right on the mark. Chris Kreider is prime evidence of that.
Having helped Boston College to an NCAA hockey title earlier this month, Kreider ripped a slapshot past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby on Saturday afternoon to snap a 1-1 tie at 7:00 of the third period.
Less than two minutes later, here was this raw rookie again, setting up Richards for the insurance tally in a 3-1 Rangers win that gave New York a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
When the Rangers inked him just days after he had helped BC to a national title, they knew they were getting a first-round pick with speed and size. But to be such a difference maker this quickly in the pressure cooker of the NHL playoffs, well, this is the type of script you might only find at one of the stage shows that take place at the many nearby theatres just off Times Square.
In the process, he has become a fan favourite here, not an easy feat when you consider this was just his sixth career NHL game. Try imagining the goosebumps that must have been sprouting all over his 20-year-old body when the capacity throng at the World’s self-proclaimed Most Famous Arena started chanting his name in unison after he had given the Rangers the lead for good.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Kreider said when asked about what it was like to hear the love being thrown his way by the fans.
“It’s hard to believe (the NCAA title) was only three weeks ago.”
His life has changed oh, so much since then.
In Game 6 of the Rangers first-round series against the Ottawa Senators, he scored the winner against Sens goalie Craig Anderson. Now, just two games later, he did it again, this time against a shaky Holtby.
“He has no fear. That’s what I like about him,” coach John Tortorella said. “The biggest thing is his mindset. He’s not here to test the waters. He’s here to make a difference.”
He’s done exactly that.
“I don’t think it’s been an overwhelming situation, maybe aside from the media, just because the way the guys have been, how the front office has been and, obviously, how my friends at home and BC have been. It’s just hockey. It’s the same game I’ve played, just at a higher level,” Kreider said.
Given the eye-glazing product these two teams produced on this sun-splashed New York afternoon, considering this boring example of non-entertainment “a higher level” might not be an applicable description.
The two teams combined for just 32 shots, with 18 of those produced by Washington. Through the first 31 minutes of regulation, in fact, the Rangers had fired just five at Holtby.
No matter. New York scored three times on its first 12 shots, including questionable goals by Richards and Artem Anisimov that found their way through Holtby’s five hole.
“Obviously I wasn’t real happy with (my game),” Holtby said. “It’s a tough game to stay into, mental-wise (because of the inactivity) and I didn’t do a good enough job of it.”
Chris Kreider certainly did. And he was wearing The Broadway Hat afterward to prove it.