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Avery-Boyle-Prust line proving productive for Rangers

by Dave Lozo
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With Rangers coach John Tortorella mixing his lines so frequently, it's important for fans and players to never get too attached to any combination.

But for a third straight game, the Rangers will use a line of Sean Avery, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Washington Capitals.

It's certainly not a line loaded with superstars, but it's been the Rangers' most consistent line entering Wednesday night's Game 4 (7 p.m., Versus, TSN) at Madison Square Garden.

"They certainly set the tone in the first period for us and they gave us some good shifts," Tortorella said about the line's performance in Sunday's Game 3. "Brian Boyle, arguably, has probably been one of our most consistent forwards through the first three games. I thought that line gave us some good energy."

Avery joined the line after Mats Zuccarello was a healthy scratch for Game 2. Tortorella felt his team wasn't holding onto the puck enough below the goal line, something that has been a staple of their offense this season.

Prust and Boyle were a big reason the Rangers struck first in Game 1, working hard behind the Capitals net to set up Matt Gilroy's third-period goal. But in the two games with the Avery-Boyle-Prust combination, the Rangers have been carrying the play more often.

In the Rangers' 3-2 win in Game 3 on Sunday that cut the Capitals' lead in the best-of-7 series to 2-1, the line combined for 10 hits, and Boyle led all players with 9 shots.

"In the first period, when both teams looked like they were waiting, they gave us some energy," Tortorella said. "I thought we really got involved after that."

Considering how all three arrived at this point, it's pretty amazing they're the most reliable line the Rangers have.

Avery was a healthy scratch in six games during the final weeks of the regular season and watched Game 1 of this series from the press box. With 3 goals and 21 assists in 76 games, Avery needs to stay out of the penalty box, otherwise his fiery play only hurts the team.

Through two games in this series, he's provided the energy and shown the discipline Tortorella wanted.

"I think in the minutes he played (in Game 3), he was pretty consistent, as far as getting in on the forecheck, getting around the net, finishing his checks," Tortorella said. "Sean's biggest assets are his legs. If he starts thinking, he hurts himself. He just needs to go play and use his legs."

Prust was part of last season's trade that brought Olli Jokinen to New York from Calgary for the stretch run. The 27-year-old from London, Ont., was best known for his willingness to drop the gloves and had just 2 goals in 89 games before the trade.

In 108 games with the Rangers, he has 17 goals and 21 assists.

Prust has also emerged as one of the League's biggest threats as a penalty killer. His 1:41 of shorthanded ice time is fourth on the team among forwards, and his five shorthanded goals are tied for third in the League.

"He looks ugly as hell skating, but he seems to get there on the forecheck. You get everything out of him. That was a great deal for us. He's one of our top penalty killers, does a lot of the grinding and little things." -- John Tortorella on Brandon Prust

"I was pretty excited to come here. I thought it'd be a good opportunity," Prust said. "I wasn't really getting a good opportunity in Calgary. When the trade happened, I was pretty excited. I didn't know how much I was going to get used, but I thought it was going to be a start. I knew it was up to me to do the best with the opportunity I got. Fortunately, Torts stuck with me."

"He looks ugly as hell skating, but he seems to get there on the forecheck," Tortorella said. "You get everything out of him. That was a great deal for us. He's one of our top penalty killers, does a lot of the grinding and little things."

Boyle came to the Rangers from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a third-round pick in a draft-day trade in 2009. The 26-year-old from Hingham, Mass., had just 4 goals in 71 games for the Rangers last season, but he discovered his scoring touch in 2010-11 after getting himself into better shape during the offseason.

His 21 goals and 14 assists were career-highs, and he was at his best when the Rangers lost Marian Gaborik for 12 games to a separated shoulder early in the season. At 6-foot-7, 244 pounds, Boyle became a more physical presence this season, racking up a team-high 240 hits after he had just 141 last season.

All of those traits have resulted in Boyle, Prust and Avery meshing into pretty formidable energy line.

"We all know what kind of players we are," Boyle said. "We know what works for us, and that's the little things. When something comes up, there's a lot of communication. When we get back to the bench, we don't talk too much. We kind of know what we're doing.

"We're not that fancy. We don't have a big playbook."

"That whole line, I think they've given us some real good energy," Tortorella said. "And in the playoffs, I think that's a very important ingredient to have."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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