Why Ryan Reaves' physical play is catalyst for Rangers in first round

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Ryan Reaves close-up blue jersey
Ryan Reaves close-up blue jersey

On a team with many young players experiencing the playoffs for the first time, the Rangers have to be grateful that Ryan Reaves is on their bench.

Of course, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have had their fair share of playoff bouts in their career. But Reaves’ physical nature, one that Penguins defenseman John Marino knows all about after Game 1, is such a crucial piece of the Rangers’ puzzle to a potential Stanley Cup run.

It’s no shock that Reaves led the team in hits with eight in the triple-overtime thriller in the series opener. Nor is it a surprise that the Madison Square Garden crowd reacted with sheer joy every time he laid a hit when his fourth line came out on the ice. That’s because physicality means so much more when the puck drops in May – it’s a tone setter, something that can galvanize your team.

Reaves, an 85-game playoff veteran, knows it.

“The message was clear before the playoffs started: it’s a grind, and like I said before, every little hit matters,” Reaves told reporters before Game 2. “ It takes a toll on the body.”

Watching Reaves give up his body on the forecheck and fight through his shifts also has an effect on those young players, like Alexis Lafreniere. He had five hits to finish second on the team in that category, while Reaves’ linemate Kevin Rooney had four in his first career playoff game. Same goes for Adam Fox, who wasn’t afraid to check while making things happen offensively (he scored the first goal for the Rangers).

“I think for a guy like Laff who isn’t always the most physical guy but buys into it in his first playoff game, not just following me, but that can trickle down to the rest of the lineup too,” Reaves explained. “You see a guy like that doing it and some of the other younger guys step up and play physical. Lindy a couple big hits last game, but you need it out of everybody. It can’t just be a couple guys leading the charge and expect it to go that way.”

Head coach Gerard Gallant saw what Reaves was capable of on his Stanley Cup-bound Vegas Golden Knights. It was their inaugural season after the expansion draft and the Knights were a very physical squad, with Reaves leading the way. He had 168 total playoff hits in the three seasons Gallant was head coach. That’s why he’s penciled in and will likely continue to be on that gritty fourth line throughout this series.

The Key for Reaves, and the rest of the Rangers for that matter, is making sure that intensity lasts a full 60 minutes. For the first 25 minutes, the Rangers were clearly the better team on the ice. But Pittsburgh had a 25-8 shot advantage in the second period and the Rangers backed off the gas.

Consistency is what Gallant wants, and Reaves is ready to bring that in Game 2, and frankly, the rest of this best-of-seven battle.

“First period we were north-south, in your face. Second period we started getting a little cute with the puck, a little bit more east-west, especially at the blue lines, not getting pucks out, maybe trying to make a play before we got the puck in. It’s a high-skilled team over there, experienced team. They’re going to make you pay for your mistakes. Sticking to what works again is key.

“Our game has to be for a full game, 60, 80 whatever it is. It’s gotta be for the whole game.”