The pressure associated with the Stanley Cup Playoffs certainly hasn't gotten the best of New York Rangers
rookie Brandon Dubinsky
It appears as if the 6-foot-1, 210-pound center already has learned how to temper his emotions, a rarity for a 21-year-old skater starring in the Big Apple. Perhaps he just doesn't know any better. Either way, Dubinsky has exhibited poise on faceoffs, strength along the boards and a deft touch around the net to become a key weapon in the Rangers' arsenal against the New Jersey Devils
. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven quarterfinal-round series 3-1 and can advance with a win in Game 5 tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS) at Prudential Center.
Dubinsky already has experienced a lot of what playoff hockey is all about in just four games, particularly in Game 2 when he and Devils winger Dainius Zubrus
exchanged facials late in the second period. He leads the team in face-off wins (45) while sporting a 54.2 percent success-rate on draws and is second on the team in hits (13) and goals (two) this postseason.
One must wonder what adjustments Dubinsky has had to make, if any, during his playoff initiation.
"I think the intensity of the game," Dubinsky told NHL.com. "Every shift is so much tougher and you understand the importance of the situation and how one mistake could cost the team the
game or even the series. I just have to be ready to gut it out and play."
It's precisely that mentality that has helped spawn rave reviews from fans, teammates and Rangers coach Tom Renney.
"He has set the bar high and believes in himself and there's no doubt he's been playing at a different level (in the playoffs)," Renney said. "Now, he just needs to mold his game and become an even better all-around player and that's one of the benefits I have as a coach. It's going to be nice to witness his progression because he is a special kind of player."
Rangers left wing Martin Straka
feels Dubinsky might have "started as a rookie, but has played better and better each game. He's been a huge part of our success."
On April 4, Dubinsky received the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, voted on by the fans as the player who performs "above and beyond the call of duty." That same night, he was voted Rookie of the Year by his teammates. He was also one of 16 rookies selected to participate in the 2008 YoungStars Game at the All-Star Game in Atlanta, earning YoungStars MVP after scoring two goals and one assist.
"It was an honor to win the McDonald award, especially after seeing the names of other guys who had won it," Dubinsky said. "I do everything I can to contribute to this team and I'll always put them in front of me. It makes me feel good to get that recognition from the fans and it gives me a little more drive to keep going and keep doing that every night. I try to bring that effort and energy to every shift and I'll do whatever it takes to win, whether that requires a big body check, trying to score or winning a faceoff."
The native of Anchorage, Alaska, a second-round draft choice (60th overall) by the Rangers in 2004, led all NHL rookies and ranked 15th in the League in hits (196) during the regular season. He finished tied for sixth on the team in goals (14) and points (40) and ranked third on the club in face-off winning percentage (51 percent).
"When I first came into the League, I didn't say to myself I need to score this many points or this many goals," Dubinsky said. "I wanted to play physical, make sure I took care of my own zone and make sure I did my share on faceoffs. I'm confident in my offensive abilities, but also understand that at this level, most of the offensive guys in this League are in the top three-to-four percentile in the world. That's not me, so I have to make sure I'm taking care of the other things properly so that my job is secure."
As the center for 17-season NHL veteran Jaromir Jagr
, job security should be the least of Dubinsky's worries.
"Jags has been phenomenal for me, on and off the ice," Dubinsky said. "We've spent countless hours working together after practice on shooting, handling the puck and keeping the head up when making plays. He's on me all the time about conditioning; making sure that I'm out there skating and working."
Jagr, the Rangers' captain who played a part in two Stanley Cup titles with Pittsburgh in 1991 and '92, has stressed to Dubinsky the marathon that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Jags is focused on taking care of yourself off the ice," Dubinsky said. "He wants you to work hard on the ice, but also do the extra stuff off of it because the playoffs are long and you have to be in better shape and have that mental and physical toughness when the second or third round rolls around. That type of advice is invaluable and has helped me out a lot. I've learned to bear down and focus on what I need to do from game-to-game instead of getting caught up in the whole playoff hype."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.