PITTSBURGH — Even at 38 years old, even after playing 107 Stanley Cup Playoff games throughout his career, Dan Boyle was as anxious as he ever was last Thursday when the Rangers began their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Penguins at Madison Square Garden.
Boyle’s been down this road. The defenseman had been on playoff runs with Tampa Bay and San Jose, winning a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004. None of that made him feel any calmer before and during the Rangers’ Game 1 victory, and he believes his performance was affected.
“I don’t think I had a very good Game 1,” Boyle said after the Rangers’ morning skate Wednesday as they took a 2-1 lead into Game 4. “I think I had too many butterflies being on a new team.”
After all these years, the novelty of the playoffs hasn’t worn off for the veteran blue-liner. The chase for another Cup, the electricity among the crowd, the intensity of the play on the ice – Boyle still gets jazzed up about everything, especially knowing that his NHL career is approaching its end.
“I think Game 1 was a little different than it was in years past just because it was a new team and it was a new experience, so I probably had more (butterflies) than I wanted to or should have,” said Boyle, who was preparing to play his 111th playoff game Wednesday night.
“But you still get excited. Obviously I’m heading toward my last few chances, so you want to make sure – you’re only gonna get so many chances at it, so that’s in the back of your mind and it gets you just as excited. Even more excited, maybe.”
This comes on the heels of what was a trying first regular-season for Boyle with the Rangers. Boyle, who signed a two-year, $ 9 million contract last summer, dealt with a broken hand and an illness early in the season and played poorly for long stretches, not living up to the difference-making, power-play defenseman the Rangers thought they were getting.
He produced nine goals and 11 assists in 65 games. The .31 points per game was his lowest total as a full-time NHL player; he averaged .23 points in just 13 games with Florida as a 23-year-old during the 1999-2000 season. Boyle also had to adjust to getting less ice time. His regular-season average of 20:15 was his lowest since 2001-02.
“I think it took a while to get comfortable here, but I feel like my game has evolved from where it was years ago,” Boyle said.
After a shoddy first couple of games in the series, Boyle was much better on both ends of the ice in Game 3, winning battles defensively and being active on the rush. He was credited with one shot, one hit and one blocked shot in 20:02.
“I thought he played a good game,” Alain Vigneault said. “I thought he was very competitive one-on-one, and that’s what we expect of him.”
It’s what they expected when they attempted to take a commanding 3-1 lead Wednesday night, but no matter the series situation, Boyle says every game must be taken the same. The Rangers know how quickly a big series lead can slip away after coming back from down 3-1 against the same Penguins in last year’s second round.
The expectation is always to play a long series, Boyle says, and there’s not one moment until the series is over when a team can afford to get ahead of itself.
“You don’t relax or rest until you win four games,” he said. “I’ve said it many times before: You always prepare for a seven-game series. You don’t get too comfortable when you’re up, you don’t get too low when you’re down. There’s no taking your foot off the gas.”
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