NEW YORK -- If Brian Boyle had his way he'd be a New York Ranger for life. He's a New Englander-turned-New Yorker, and he's proud of it.
"My heart has always been here," Boyle told NHL.com on Saturday.
Boyle might have to pull his heart out of New York City and lose his allegiance to the Rangers after this season, his fifth in the Big Apple. He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and there has been no indication from the Rangers that they plan to re-sign him.
However, the uncertainty of Boyle's future here has added another layer to his motivation in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's not close to ready for his Ranger career to end, a fact that has only incentivized him to be a factor in the playoffs.
The Rangers are reaping the rewards.
Boyle has been an integral part of New York's success throughout the postseason, especially because of his bravery on the penalty kill. But injuries to Derick Brassard and now Derek Stepan have resulted in Boyle's raised level of importance in the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Brassard, who has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, said he will play, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said it's "unlikely" that Stepan (broken jaw) will be in the lineup.
That means Boyle's role won't change. He started the series as the fourth-line left wing, but Brassard's injury forced Vigneault to move him to center on that line.
Boyle will be there again if Stepan is out. He hopes to be as impactful as he has been through the first three games of the Conference Final.
He is among the reasons the Rangers are a perfect 9-for-9 on the penalty kill in the series and why their fourth line has been able to forecheck and keep the puck in the offensive zone.
Boyle has won 25 of 33 faceoffs and has been credited with six blocked shots, including three in New York's 3-1 victory in Game 2. The Rangers have a 14-10 edge in shots on goal when Boyle is on the ice during 5-on-5 play.
"He plays real important minutes for us as far as penalty killing and a lot of times I'm not afraid at all to use him or his line against the other team's top line," Vigneault said. "He's done a good job for us. I think for whatever reason, ever since the start of the playoffs, I don't know if it's more attention on his part or better focus or whatever, but his game is better now than it was during the regular season."
Boyle doesn't argue that point. He called his regular season "tough."
He had 18 points in 82 games, but only one goal in the first 42 games. Coupled with Boyle's similarly difficult 2012-13 season, when he had two goals in 38 games and was occasionally a healthy scratch, it's easy to see why he would be frustrated.
"The second half of this year was good, but I couldn't really buy a goal so it was tough," Boyle said. "This year didn't go exactly like I wanted it to, but at the end of the day you take a step back, we're in the Conference Final right now and hopefully I'm making a difference."
He is, and it's in the same areas where he made a difference for the Rangers in the regular season. The difference is that Boyle's role on the penalty kill is amplified in the playoffs because of how much of a dagger a power-play goal against can be.
The Rangers had the third-ranked PK in the regular season, when Boyle averaged 2:04 of shorthanded ice time per game, the most among New York forwards. He's averaging 2:15 of shorthanded time per game in the playoffs, and the Rangers have killed 22 straight penalties.
"I certainly admire a guy like Brian, who does all the little things well," Rangers center Dominic Moore said. "It's the kind of thing he's taken pride in. You don't just get that kind of versatility overnight. It's something he's put a lot of work into over the years and taken pride in being able to do things well in a variety of different ways. It's so important this time of year to have players like that on your side."
Derek Dorsett, who plays right wing on the fourth line, said Boyle is an easy guy to play with because he's predictable, but in a positive way for his wingers.
"He logs big minutes on the penalty kill, blocks a ton of shots, and those are the guys who shine in the playoffs," Dorsett said. "But he's definitely picked it up a gear in the playoffs."
No matter if it's by design, by importance or by sheer will, the Rangers need Boyle to keep playing at a high level if they want to keep playing in the playoffs. The longer they do, the longer Boyle is assured of staying a Ranger.
Nobody knows if he'll be a Ranger for life, but if this New Englander-turned-New Yorker can help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup he'll forever be beloved in the Big Apple.
That should be good enough, no matter what happens this summer.
"I'm so lucky and blessed to play hockey here, and I've found some of my best friends on this team," Boyle said. "At the same time things do change and I've got to understand that, but that adds to the importance of keeping this thing going."