PITTSBURGH — When the Rangers were facing elimination for the first time in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Penguins, in Game 5 on Wednesday, Filip Chytil spoke with a tone he never displayed in his five NHL seasons.
The Czech winger was stern and purposeful with his words, albeit in English, which is his second language. He was both critical and motivational when speaking on what the Rangers need to do to keep their season alive. As a player who is not usually chosen to represent the club under such circumstances, Chytil handled the stage with poise and authority.
He sounded like a player who has been an integral part of this Rangers team for as long as he has been in New York. He acted like a veteran. He was a leader.
And Chytil translated it all onto the ice that night at Madison Square Garden.
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Chytil scored the game-winning goal on a power play early in the third period to propel the Rangers to a 5-3 win, which allowed his team to force Game 6, which took place Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Aside that Game 5 winner, Chytil has been one of the most consistent forwards for the Rangers in this series. He has won puck battles, driven offensive plays and competed for every inch of ice he has gotten. His one goal and one assist through five games were not indicative of his overall impact on the series.
“That’s a guy that’s constantly working, constantly working, constantly working,” said Chris Kreider, who has been his teammate since Chytil’s first NHL season in 2017-18. “The mastery isn’t linear and I think that’s a guy who understands that. Regardless of what’s going on in the course of a season, wherever he may think his game is, whether or not he thinks he has confidence or doesn’t, he’s still doing the right things every single day.
“Ever since he showed up here, he’s been a really, really, really good pro — which is something that sometimes takes a little time for a kid who’s that young. You forget just how young he was and how young he still is. His details just seem to get better and better.
“That’s a guy who wants to be great and wants to have an impact every time he’s on the ice and who’s really committed himself to winning and playing a team game. He’s become a massive part of our team and he’s a joy to be around, too.”
Chytil, whom the Rangers drafted 21st overall in 2017, made the club’s opening-night roster that year at age 18. While he only played nine games that season, Chytil has been a lineup staple for the Rangers in the last four seasons. But he has struggled to establish his identity as an NHLer. His breakout season hasn’t yet come.
His first five legitimate playoff games, however, have indicated it could be on the horizon.
Head coach Gerard Gallant has tried to push the right buttons with Chytil, who was a healthy scratch a handful of times during the regular season. Chytil watched from the press box for three straight games at the end of February and Gallant insinuated that he had a chat with the 22-year-old about being more competitive.
“Fil’s always got skill and talent, but we want him to be more competitive,” Gallant said. “It’s not just Fil, it’s the line [with Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko]. And the kids are more competitive. They’re playing hard. Sometimes, as a coach, you look at your players and you don’t realize they’re 22, 21 and 20. I knew that, but when you hear it when somebody is talking about it on ESPN or whatever it was, it sort of says they’re really young. And that’s what makes you happy about them.”