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Pavel Buchnevich has been catalyst for Rangers

Coach Alain Vigneault's decision to play rookie forward has helped New York take 3-2 series lead against Canadiens

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault made a subtle move after losing Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens, and the ripple effect has put the Rangers in position to close out the series in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

When Vigneault inserted rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich into the lineup for Game 4 on Tuesday and took out Tanner Glass it set off a chain reaction that resulted in the Rangers getting back to their identity of depth and speed and skill.

The Rangers won Game 4 at home, 2-1, and won Game 5 at Bell Centre, 3-2, in overtime Thursday.

"We kind of went back to what made us successful, I think," forward Mika Zibanejad said Friday when asked what changed after Game 3. "And that's playing fast."

Not only did Vigneault insert Buchnevich for Game 4, he also rearranged all four of his forward lines in order to accommodate him. Buchnevich was placed on a line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, two players who were struggling offensively in the series but who also had some success playing with the skilled rookie earlier in the season.

That line produced the winning goal in overtime Thursday.

"The four lines we have right now have been a threat," Zibanejad said. "It's a good feeling to have a team like this."

Putting Buchnevich on the Zibanejad line left a spot on the fourth line, where Glass was playing with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Vigneault inserted Michael Grabner, who finished second on the Rangers to Kreider with 27 goals in the regular season.

Vigneault said prior to the start of the series that the Canadiens must be a very good team if they can afford to have a player like Alex Galchenyuk on their fourth line, which is where he started the series but has since moved up the depth chart.

Video: NYR@FLA: Buchnevich seals 5-2 win with empty-net goal

The same could very easily be said of a team that has Grabner on its fourth line.

"There's a speed element there and there's a compete element there," Vigneault said of that line. "There's speed, but you also have Jesper and Oscar who really compete hard for loose pucks and really battle hard. It makes for a good mix."

That Lindberg line has given the Canadiens fits over the past two games, spending entire shifts in the offensive zone and consistently winning its matchup, providing either a momentum swing in New York's favor or building on the momentum the Rangers had already established.

"We've always tried to stay away from really identifying [our forward lines] 1-2-3-4, because I'm not sure we do have a 1-2-3-4," Vigneault said. "I think we have balance in our forward trios that we put together, and that balance permits us to roll the lines pretty quickly, not be overly concerned with the matchup that we have in front of us as far as forwards and just go out and try and play.

"Putting Pavel in the last couple of games has permitted us to continue to be physical, but maybe have just a little bit more skill on the ice. It's worked out for us so far."

Buchnevich has fit in seamlessly after missing the first three games of the series to play his first career NHL playoff game. There has been little indication he is a rookie, and the intensity not only hasn't affected, he appears to be thriving in it.

"It's pretty impressive," defenseman Marc Staal said. "He's a high skill guy, he's very smart. You can tell when he's on the ice, he just knows where to be and he's making some really skilled plays with the puck. It's been a good boost for us."

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