GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin wears the distinction of being a defensive-minded player proudly even if he doesn't believe it tells the story of who he is and what he's capable of doing.
"I still think people know I put up decent numbers without playing a second on the [power play], but yeah, probably defensive guy is right, and it's fine," Hagelin said Monday. "I know what I'm made of and I know what I have done offensively in this League while playing a defensive role. I'm confident I can do a lot of damage offensively."
He's again using the Stanley Cup Playoffs as his proving ground.
The Pittsburgh Penguins gave Hagelin two big openings in the Eastern Conference First Round and he deposited the puck into the back of the net both times.
He scored the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 5 by curling from behind the net into the right circle, wheeling around and sending a low, heavy wrist shot past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
He also had an assist on center Kevin Hayes' overtime winner in Game 4. He was at the net and made a slick move, kicking the puck to his backhand before sliding an off-balance, cross-crease pass under Fleury's arm to Hayes at the left post.
"He likes to play in the big games and he has clearly figured out how to do it," Hayes said of Hagelin.
Hagelin had three points in the series against the Penguins, including a breakaway goal in Game 3 that put the Rangers ahead 1-0. His first round was a continuation of his playoffs last season, when he had seven goals and 12 points in 25 games. That includes the game-winning goal in Game 6 against the Penguins in the second round and shorthanded goals in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
In the past three seasons Hagelin has averaged .50 points per game in the playoffs (21 in 42 games), up from .45 points per game in the regular season (92 in 202 games). And he's done it while playing a total of 2:49 on the power play in his past 30 playoff games, including 53 seconds in five games against the Penguins.
Hagelin averaged 2:21 per game on the penalty kill in the first round against Pittsburgh; he played 2:17 per game in shorthanded situations last year in the postseason.
"You get to playoffs and he almost reaches another level," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "His conditioning and his speed is so good that you get into an overtime game and it looks like he's playing his first shift. It's impressive and he's been great for us every year going into the playoffs. He's had some big goals."
Hagelin's speed allows him to win an inch so he can beat you by a mile. He thinks he's better at doing that in the playoffs than in the regular season because of how quickly he can make an opponent pay for a mistake.
"They are usually better chances [in the playoffs] than you get during the regular year because everyone is playing so tight that one mistake and everything opens up," Hagelin said. "During the year there might be more 2-on-1s, but now it feels like it's a 2-on-2, 3-on-3 or a breakaway. Everyone is playing great defensively so that means there are more guys on your side playing great defensively. So once you get the puck there seems to be more room."
Hayes said there's more room because of Hagelin's speed.
Hayes has played on the same line as Hagelin throughout the season and said Hagelin's speed makes defenders back off and forces them to play him wide, which creates openings in the middle of the offensive zone for others.
"He's really good, responsible defensively, and really good on the [penalty kill] so people kind of overlook his offensive ability," Hayes said. "He's showing that he's an all-around great player. He's factored in on two important goals and it seems like he is just getting better."
Left Wing - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 11 | +/-: 1
Hagelin said a key to his playoff success is staying consistent with what he did in the regular season. He said he feels players try to match his speed in the playoffs, but when they do it throws them off their game while nothing changes for him.
"Everyone is skating as fast as they can now and I guess I'm doing it the entire year," he said. "So if some guys aren't used to it maybe they're not able to handle the puck as well and think the game the way you're used to when it's a little bit slower. I always think the game at a pretty high pace so this is normal to me now."
When Hagelin is playing and thinking the game at a high pace his confidence grows.
He said he doesn't need to score for that to happen in the regular season. But in the playoffs he said his confidence on the offensive end is buoyed by scoring early, which he has done for three straight years.
Hagelin scored in the Rangers' playoff openers in 2013 and last season; he waited until Game 3 to score his first goal this year but felt he had three Grade-A chances to score in Game 1 against the Penguins.
"All you need is one chance," Hagelin said. "That's my mindset in the playoffs."
He typically takes advantage.
"He's certainly scoring goals at critical times," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Whatever he's doing right now, he needs to continue."