Stepan makes Rangers history in Buffalo
20-year-old becomes team's first player to get hat trick in his NHL debut
|By scoring three goals on Saturday night, Derek Stepan became the first Rangers player to get a hat trick in his first NHL game and only the fourth in the league's 93-year history to acoomplish that feat.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Following Saturday’s morning skate in Buffalo, roughly seven hours before the puck would officially drop on the 2010-11 regular season, Rangers head coach John Tortorella was asked if he thought rookie center Derek Stepan would be filled with nerves in his NHL debut.
The coach’s answer was stated emphatically, and later proved to be prophetic.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, because I think he embraces all of his challenges and looks at it as an opportunity,” Tortorella said of the 20 year-old Stepan. “I think he’ll be a good player for us (Saturday) night.”
Stepan was precisely that, scoring his first NHL goal, and then adding two more to finish with a hat trick, in his first game to lead the Rangers to a 6-3 opening night victory over the Sabres at HSBC Arena.
“Good for him,” Tortorella said of Stepan following the game. “And he did a lot of other good things other than score goals for us. It’s good to see from a 20-year-old”
While years from now fans might assume Stepan’s first NHL goal came off a gorgeous rush, in truth it was a case of being in the right place at the right time and benefitting from a fortuitous bounce.
Stationed to the right of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, Stepan deflected Dan Girardi’s slap shot from the point. The deflection shot diagonally across the crease -- as opposed to on goal – and fortunately for Stepan, the deflection then caromed off the skate of Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers and into the net at 10:53 of the first period. As a result, the Rangers were able to open their 2010-11 season with a hard-fought -- albeit somewhat lucky -- goal.
“I wanted it to be where it bounced off the other team because that’s the way everyone, I think, scores their first goal,” said Stepan. “Off the elbow pad, off the shin pad, off someone else. That’s part of the process.”
However Stepan wasn’t finished with scoring goals in his NHL debut. With the Blueshirts holding a 2-1 advantage and relying heavily on the stalwart goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist in the second period, he beat veteran defenseman Craig Rivet to a rebound in front and buried the puck behind Miller to provide the Rangers some important breathing room with 4:52 to go in the middle stanza.
And then, incredibly, with 1:40 remaining in the second, Stepan scored again by converting a slick Sean Avery pass into the slot.
“Not a chance could I have dreamed this,” said Stepan. “You dream about playing in the NHL, and then you go out and play like that, I mean the hockey gods must have been looking down on me. It was a fun night overall, that’s for sure.”
Stepan became only the fourth rookie in NHL history to score three goals in his first game. The last player to accomplish this feat was Fabian Brunnstrom, who did so for the Dallas Stars on Oct. 15, 2008.
|Derek Stepan celebrates his second goal of the game on Saturday night at Buffalo. Stepan notched his historic hat trick against Ryan Miller, who is widely considered to be the game's best goalie.
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While clearly Stepan earned his First-Star honors on Saturday night, he wasn’t the only member of the team’s heralded young core to help the Rangers to victory.
Girardi had two assists and thoroughly frustrated the Sabres by blocking four shots in the first period alone. Brandon Dubinsky buried his first goal of the year at 15:42 of the first period and then iced the win with an empty-netter. Sophomore center Artem Anisimov assisted on that first goal after taking the puck away from Myers behind the Sabres net and then proceeding to make a perfect cross-crease pass to Dubinsky after coming out to Miller’s right. And defenseman Marc Staal was his usual stout self on the blueline while also assisting on Stepan’s second goal.
The veterans did their share of heavy lifting, too, in particular Lundqvist, who finished with 33 saves, including 18 in the second period. Avery had a strong game with two assists and a plus-three rating. And the top line got into the scoring act when Erik Christensen, assisted by linemates Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov, scored 1:08 into the final period.
Although this was a strong overall team win, opening night unquestionably belonged to the rookie starring in his NHL debut.
“He’s such a great talent and it was just awesome what he did tonight,” Dubinsky said of Stepan. “He’s a big part of the team and he’s really going to help us this year. The best thing about him is that he is confident, but he stays with that even keel.”