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Quick start from top line has been key for Rangers

by Tal Pinchevsky

Any line featuring a captain partnered with the squad's leading scorer and one of the NHL's fastest skaters would be looked to for scoring and leadership on every shift. But for the New York Rangers' top line of captain Ryan Callahan, leading scorer Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin -- who won the Bridgestone Fastest Skater competition at the 2012 All-Star Game -- a good start has been just as critical as a good finish.

Featuring good speed and a ferocious forecheck, the Rangers' top line has provided a quick start that has been a huge part of New York's strong recent play. In April, the line has opened the scoring within the first 3:30 of the game four times, all Rangers wins. And the team posts an impressive 11-1-1 record when at least one of its top trio of forwards scores in the first period of a game. The only time the team lost when one of these players scored in the first was in the team's second game of the season, a 6-3 loss Jan. 20 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I think it's an emphasis for our team to come out and get a lead early," Stepan said following the team's season-ending 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils, a game in which he opened the scoring 2:37 into the first period. "Just jump on a team with our forecheck and use our speed. That's something our line really focuses on."

That start from the speedy top line has proven most important in April, a month in which the team posted a 10-3-1 record. The trio has opened the scoring in the first period of four of the team's last five games; the one game in which they didn't open the scoring in the first period, the Rangers fell 3-2 to the Florida Panthers, their only loss in that span.

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