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Leonard: Glass keeps grinding with physical play for Rangers

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Tanner Glass has no points entering Game 4 against the Penguins.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Tanner Glass has no points entering Game 4 against the Penguins.

PITTSBURGH – In the land of Rangerstown, fans have found a way this season to blame Tanner Glass for everything from team losses to the brutal winter weather, to the economy, to the spread of mumps.

If the Rangers fail to win the Stanley Cup this spring, that will be Glass’ fault, too. It’s a wonder Knicks fans haven’t joined the pile-on and just turned the 31-year-old veteran left wing into a Garden-wide scapegoat.

Glass, an ex-Penguin, can’t do anything about his popularity. He works. He fights. He takes pride in the crest on his jersey.

He was battling uphill from day one replacing true Blue-blood Brian Boyle, whose botched summer negotiation on both sides and difference in opinion with Alain Vigneault over his role led to a contract in Tampa Bay. Glen Sather’s three-year term on Glass’ $ 1.45 million-per-year contract was puzzling. And Glass knows his one goal, five assists and minus-12 rating in 66 regular season games weren’t up to standard.

That’s not the only way that value in hockey is measured, however.

Glass had no points entering Game 4 of this first-round series on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, for example, but he had comprised perhaps the Rangers’ most effective forechecking line in the first three games alongside center Dominic Moore and right wing Jesper Fast.

“I think hockey people that understand the facets of a team and the need for different roles get it,” Glass said of Vigneault’s patience and trust in a player he also coached in Vancouver. “And people who look at the superficial aspects don’t get it. … For me, even if people didn’t think I played well during the regular season, I thought there were different parts of my game that I worked hard to do consistently.

“But playoffs are a great time of year, and it’s like Ulf (assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson) said in our meeting earlier: ‘It’s not about there being big game players; it’s players that play the same way when the stakes are higher. I pride myself on playing the same way. Regular season or playoffs, it’s about consistency, and bringing it every night.”

Search Glass’ name on Twitter, though, and you will find a stunningly narrow focus on this one man as the root of any shortcomings the team may have. Fans also repeatedly urge members of the media to press Vigneault on Glass’ presence in the lineup, even though the coach has answered it many times.

Here’s the answer again from Fast, Glass’ linemate: “He’s one of the hardest workers on our team,” the young Swede said Wednesday morning. “Everyone has respect for him. He’s a great team player both on and off the ice. He’s playing physical, and it gives us energy. He’s a big part of our team.”

No one is suggesting Glass is anything more than what he is.

There were some regular season games when his sluggish skating seemed to indicate that, come playoffs, his scratch from the lineup was inevitable. Glass even admitted Wednesday to being discouraged during the regular season due to his lack of production. He didn’t score his goal until March 26 in Ottawa.

“When you don’t have a good one, sometimes it weighs more when you don’t have the numbers either,” Glass said. “I know I shouldn’t look at that, but it’s hard not to.”

Furthermore, there is a good chance if the Rangers advance to face a faster opponent that deadline acquisition James Sheppard would replace Glass, as the better skater.

In the Rangers’ Game 3 win on Monday night, though, Glass asserted himself as well as he’s done all season, drawing an early Pittsburgh penalty, forcing Penguins turnovers, generating scoring chances, and playing well off both Fast and Moore.

“I think it’s been building for us the last six weeks or so,” Glass said of his line’s chemistry, which steadied with Fast’s addition stopping the revolving door at right wing. “We’re getting into a groove, finding where each other are and trusting each other out there. And within that framework, I think it’s just about being physical, getting pucks into places where we can be physical, and when they do have the puck, trying to keep good gaps on their centermen and getting it out of their hands.”

Glass said before the series that, full disclosure, he had intended to re-sign in Pittsburgh if former GM Ray Shero and former coach Dan Bylsma had been retained. But once they were fired, he was happy to sign in New York, where he saw a terrific chance to “win the Cup.”

He also has a chance to be a bigger part of things. Glass was a healthy scratch five times as a Penguin during Pittsburgh’s seven-game, second-round series loss to the Rangers.

This spring, a majority of the Rangers’ fans unfortunately wish Vigneault would copy that strategy. But the fact is, Glass is trying hard to help bring home the franchise’s first championship since 1994, whether the fans like him or not.

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