NEW YORK – Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Derick Brassard.
After two consecutive disappearing acts to start the series against the Washington Capitals, the New York Rangers’ center broke out with a goal and two assists – his first career postseason points – to help the Rangers cut the series deficit to 2-1 in Monday’s 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Since the Rangers acquired him at the trade deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Brassard has added valuable offense, scoring five goals and six assists over 13 critical games that helped New York finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.
But in the first two games of this series, Brassard managed just three shots – and little else – in 28:38 of ice time as the Capitals raced out to a 2-0 series lead.
“Yeah, it was a little different. Honestly I didn't know what to expect,” Brassard told NHL.com when asked about adapting to the postseason. “For me personally, it was just, I'm good when I make plays, I skate well, my puck decision needs to be good. In the second game I was all over the place.
“Tonight, I tried to have more fun and take it like it was a regular-season game.”
Brassard’s strategy paid dividends immediately, when the Hull, Quebec, native drew a first-period penalty on Joel Ward for high sticking. Just as the penalty was expiring, Brassard fed linemate Brian Boyle to erase a 1-0 deficit.
“I think my wingers, especially Brian (Boyle) and Derek (Dorsett), and even (Taylor) Pyatt -- we changed the line quite a few times during the game -- they're good for me,” Brassard said. “They're big bodies and try to get the puck.”
Brassard again found himself in the middle of the action to start the second. Eight seconds after starting his shift, he set up in the slot, took a feed from Mats Zuccarello on his right and turned and wristed it past Caps goalie Braden Holtby.
“From where Zuccarello was giving it to me there, I know the goalie was sliding so I tried to beat him on the other side,” Brassard said of his first postseason tally. “It was really tight in the slot but a great pass by Zuc.”
Brassard wouldn’t settle for a two-point game. After drawing another penalty later in the second – this time on Steve Oleksy for elbowing – Brassard tightened his grip on the game’s first star with a highlight-reel assist on Arron Asham’s third-period goal. While bracing for a blow from John Erskine in the corner, Brassard double-clutched before sliding a perfect pass to Asham, who was plummeting through the crease.
For all Brassard’s work in the offensive zone, Rangers coach John Tortorella complimented his young center’s overall performance.
“I thought he played a complete game,” Tortorella said. “He made some really good offensive plays, but I thought he also battled defensively. He hasn’t played much in this type of situation, but he played a really good game for us tonight.”
On a night when Marc Staal returned from injury, the capacity crowd was in full voice and the Rangers cut into their series deficit, it was the midseason acquisition from Quebec who stole the show.
What will he do for an encore? Both Brassard and Tortorella hope for more of the same.
“I thought right from the get-go, (Brassard) was involved and hopefully it propels him into doing it more,” Tortorella said. “We’re going to need even better play out of even a lot of people if we’re going to keep competing in the series.”