When the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens square off on Wednesday night, one man, Chris Kreider, can make all the difference in the world.
Wednesday night at approximately 7 p.m. ET inside the Bell Centre, there they’ll be. Two Original Six teams donning the red, white and blue, representing opposite spectrums of the hockey universe will reside on separate benches, sneaking a peek at the other.
This one holds more meaning.
Not only does this one take place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it brings a touch of extra passion to the table. No one player or coach will speak of it beforehand, but it’ll be firmly implanted in the minds of all involved as they cautiously warm up throwing softies at the net.
More importantly, thanks to that little chunk of hockey normalcy (that showcases one guy as public enemy No. 1 in a certain building), the rules of passion and momentum have a possibility of being flipped on its head.
It all began three years ago. As you, your mother and the milkman all know by now, Kreids was the man whose body slid into all-world goaltender Carey Price during Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals.
To Rangers fans, Kreider lost an edge. No, the stick of the defender didn’t cause him to fall. Rather, looking to get the shot off forced it to go down that way.
To Montreal fans, Chris Kreider is the devil. He’s the man that singlehandedly lost the series for the Habs, 4-2. Bowling into, arguably, the league’s top goaltender, forcing him to miss the remainder of the series, altered the course of history that allowed the Rangers, not the Habs, to reach the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
A season later, Price picked up a dash of revenge.
In any event, fan sentiment remains the same. Player sentiment also remains the same, thanks to the status of both Price and Kreider as active hockey players in the National Hockey League. Therefore, while the Habs play under the grind-it-out system of Claude Julien, they’ll have No. 20 firmly locked on their radar.
Perhaps New York can use this to its advantage.
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The home team wearing that classic CH sweater will be hyped. There’s no question about that. Looking to finally do some damage with this era of Habs hockey, the Price era, remains a crucial check mark on the bucket list. The crowd will not only be hyped, but disgruntled. They’ll be supercharged each and every time No. 20 in white touches the puck.
Should Kreider arrive at the Game 1 festivities with the same foul mindset, AV‘s squad can do damage in capturing home ice right off the bat.
We know who Kreider is. During the Spring of 2012, he burst into our hearts forever as that 20-year-old college signee who was so fast and explosive that the camera couldn’t even keep up.
With five goals and two assists that tournament, the kid out of Boston College provided an exciting glimpse into the future.
As all Blue seaters are aware, he hasn’t portrayed the model of consistency since that explosive spring.
Up and down, left and down, sideways and right ways, Chris Kreider has confused us all. His goals have always shown up (89 in four-plus seasons), but the now 25-year-old has represented an enigma at times — a guy who’s been his own worst enemy.
He simply gets lost on the ice at times. It’s a tough thing to have happen to such a skillful player. But Kreider manages it.
This season was different.
During no point this season was the youngster who’s already participated in 65 career postseason games “lost.” In fact, he’s arguably been the team’s most consistent forward. His 28 goals led the club (one better than Michael Grabner‘s 27). His 25 assists were right on the money. His +6 rating graded out as “OK” when thinking about his overall defensive awareness.
Like usual, he’ll be leaned upon beginning Wednesday.
The one X-factor here will revolve around the treatment of Chris Kreider.
Should Kreider take the heat and the pressure head on, plowing through bodies and blistering pucks at Carey Price, he becomes that not-so-secret weapon who can completely reverse hockey sentiment in the building, in the city that lives and breathes the sport.
On Wednesday night, Chris Kreider will be enemy No. 1 in the hockey capital of the world. Whether or not the Habs feed off that or the Rangers flip the script is solely up to him.
If he comes to play, Kreider, alone, could represent a shot to the solar plexus, damage that the Habs may not be able to emotionally recover from.