Rangers star forwards Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, each acquired in blockbuster trades within the past two years, have not had dominant performances by any stretch of the imagination in these playoffs.
Nash, a former Maurice Richard Trophy winner as the league's top goal scorer, has been limited to five assists in 12 postseason games. St. Louis, two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top overall scorer, has been slightly better with six points (two goals, four assists) in 12 games.
In their ongoing second round series with the Penguins, the two players with a combined salary cap hit of $13.425 million, have combined to produce a whopping one assists (by Nash).
With those two struggling, the Rangers have relied on their second line of Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot (above, with Brassard) and Mats Zuccarello to account for much of their offense this series. Combined, the three players have scored five goals this series while Brassard has netted the game-winning goal in each of the Rangers' victories against the Penguins.
Success against the Penguins isn't anything new for this trio. In nine games against the Penguins in the regular season and playoffs combined, the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line has scored an impressive 11 goals.
Unlike some of teammates with bigger names who came to the team through major trades or as big free agent signings, the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line is a bit of a combination of misfit toys.
Brassard is a former first-round pick of the Blue Jackets who rarely found success until he was traded to New York last season. Pouliot was the No. 4 overall pick by the Wild in 2005 and has played for five teams in nine seasons. Zuccarello might be the most improbable member of trio considering he is a 5-foot-7, 179-pound undrafted free agent signing from Norway, a country which has produced all seven NHL players all-time.
Recently, Brassard talked about their success against the Penguins and what has worked for his line.
Why have you had so much success against the Penguins in the regular season and postseason?
"We’re just playing. Since the coach put us together, we’ve been playing some good hockey. We try to produce but at the same time, we don’t give a lot defensively which is a good sign. We’re just having fun. I have no idea why we’re having success against Pittsburgh. It is what it is. We’re going to try to be good against them. “
When you have success against a certain opponent, does that offer a boost of confidence when playing them versus another team against whom you may not have great numbers?
"Yeah, but whatever happened in the past is the past. Now, it’s different. It’s the playoffs. We’re going to try to bring our Game 7 [mentality] to the series. Whatever happened in the games or the season series, it doesn’t matter at this point."
What has clicked for your line overall?
"We just complete each other really well. We have a little bit of every thing on our line. We’re making plays and we’re working hard. We work hard away from the puck and work hard with the puck. We’re just making plays. We’re having fun. That’s something I’ve notice. We don’t put pressure on ourselves. We don’t really talk about plays or anything. We just play. I think that’s why we’re having success."
Was there a game, a shift, a moment when you realized this line was working?
"I don’t really remember. In training camp [head coach Alain Vigneault] tried us in [Philadelphia], the first preseason game and we scored two goals I think. We started the season with a lot of injuries so that line kind of shuffled around. He just put us back together around Christmas when everyone was healthy and we clicked again. From that day, we just played together the rest of the season."
What's the scouting report on Zuccarello (above)?
"A dynamic player without and with the puck. Great vision. Completes every shift. He’s been really good all season. He’s playing every really intense. I really enjoy playing with him."
What's the scouting report on Pouliot?
"Tough, tough. Really good speed. Good reach. Really good shot. He goes in the dirty areas on the ice and he wins a lot of pucks."
(Photos: Al Bello/Getty Images and Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)