GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's been a roller-coaster month for Chris Kreider with more ups and downs than an elevator in a high-rise office building.
If the line combinations at Rangers practice Friday are any indication, the 21-year-old rookie looks like he's on his way back up again.
Kreider was back on the team's second line on the left wing with center Derek Stepan and right wing Ryan Callahan after spending the past two games playing limited minutes on the fourth line. A gaffe by Kreider in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals led directly to a goal by Alex Ovechkin, and Rangers coach John Tortorella has reined in Kreider ever since.
Kreider was averaging about 17 minutes per game from Game 7 of the Rangers' first-round series against Ottawa up until Game 2 against the Capitals and played 26:17 in New York's 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3.
But since the blunder in Game 4, Kreider hasn't cracked the seven-minute barrier. If he's back with Stepan and Callahan, that will likely change Saturday night in Game 7.
"It always takes a while, especially in this situation, for him to understand how we play, especially the defensive part," Tortorella said. "Really, we haven't overloaded him with too much. That's going to be a process he needs to go through next year. It doesn’t happen overnight. As we've gone through here, we've given him the foundation of it, not overload him, because you just don't want to turn him into a robot."
It took a few games for Kreider to earn Tortorella's trust after signing with the team right before the start of the postseason after winning two national titles in three years with Boston College. Kreider's debut in the NHL was accelerated when left wing Carl Hagelin was suspended for Games 3-5 of the Ottawa series for an elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson.
Kreider improved enough that he stayed in the lineup after Hagelin's return. He scored the winning goal in Game 6 vs. the Senators and had a goal and an assist in Game 1 vs. the Capitals. But Kreider hasn't registered a point since and knows he needs to be better.
"I think my role has been the same in my time that I've been here, regardless of the line I'm playing on," Kreider said. "They probably want more of the same, trying to win puck battles, trying to beat guys to pucks. I think I've learned things every single game regardless of the minutes I've played. It's little nuances, little details."
Kreider was a combined minus-4 between Games 3 and 5 of this series. He said his diminished role in recent games was a motivator to show he can be effective in Game 7.
"I think so," Kreider said. "I think it's kind of hard not to be motivated regardless of the situation here, playing big minutes or small minutes. I was pretty inspired and motivated throughout the playoffs."
With Kreider on the second line, forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has zero goals in 13 games in the playoffs, was on the fourth line with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell. Here's how the lines all looked at practice Friday:
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel
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