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Moved to top line, St. Louis is Rangers' X-factor

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's not new to see New York Rangers right wing Martin St. Louis stay on the ice after practice longer than any of his teammates, as he did Monday and Tuesday. He's built a potential Hall of Fame resume by constantly working on his game, shooting puck after puck after puck to hone his best skill.

This week, though, St. Louis has taken a single-minded approach to the extra work he's putting in before and after practice in preparation for the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Washington Capitals, which begins Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I have to do more," St. Louis said after practice Tuesday. "I'm hoping to have more of an impact on this series than I did in the first round."

If he can it would certainly improve the Rangers' chances of moving on to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is putting St. Louis in position to deliver.

With Mats Zuccarello expected to be out for at least Game 1 because of an upper-body injury, St. Louis will start the series against Washington on New York's first line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard. He played late in the regular season and throughout the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin.

It's not often a team can promote a former Hart Trophy winner and two-time Art Ross Trophy winner from its third line to its first line, but St. Louis, who turns 40 on June 18, hasn't been playing like an MVP and scoring champ of late.

St. Louis' only point in New York's five-game series win against the Penguins was an assist on Hayes' overtime winner in Game 4. He otherwise was held off the scoresheet and limited to 10 shots on goal, including six in Game 5, which was by far his best game.

He has three goals on 39 shots in his past 21 games.

"I liked that line of him, Hayes and Hagelin, but with [Zuccarello] being out we've got to put players in different spots, and he's probably most suited as far as offensively gifted to play with [Brassard] and Rick Nash," Vigneault said. "He has played with them prior, during the season, and he's very demanding on himself. That's what I want. At this time of the year, you want players who want to do more. You need that to win hockey games."

St. Louis clearly wants to do more. He said it starts with what he does, not what his linemates do for him.

"I've gotta create more for my linemates, more for myself," St. Louis said. "My play with the puck has to be better. I have to help offensively to generate. I don't think I did enough of that in round one."

St. Louis' game is built on getting open and shooting the puck, especially with his one-timer from the right circle. He has scored 391 goals and has 1,033 points in 1,134 regular-season games by playing that way. He has 84 points in 93 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

But he didn't get open enough against the Penguins and rarely had a chance to unleash his heavy one-timer because he wasn't winning enough puck battles along the walls or doing enough without the puck to create the room he needs in the right circle.

There wasn't anything vintage about St. Louis' performance against the Penguins, and in some ways it was a carryover from his regular season, when he produced 52 points, his lowest output when playing more than 70 games since 2000-01.

"It's the second round of the playoffs, you want to move on, you've gotta elevate your game," St. Louis said. "You've gotta be better than in the first round."

To do that he'll have to find some open space against Washington. That won't be easy, but it can be done.

"He drives hard to the net and he's always got his stick available," Nash said. "He's a player that is always loaded to shoot, and you can always use that to your advantage."

The good news is that St. Louis won't have to work to develop chemistry with Nash and Brassard; he played with them for long stretches during the regular season, especially when Zuccarello was struggling.

Vigneault and the Rangers just have to hope it comes back quickly, and that it brings out St. Louis' scoring touch. They need it. He has to do more.

"They're great players, and hopefully I can feed off of their chemistry and what they've got going, try to add what I do, what I can do," St. Louis said. "Everybody wants to help the team, and I feel I can play better. I'm hoping my best hockey is in front of me."

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