Throughout the myriad of injuries the Rangers have sustained to their forward depth, there has been only one constant: the third line of Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle, and Brandon Prust. When Marian Gaborik, Erik Christensen, and Ryan Callahan went down with injuries, and the rest of the lines were jumbled to try and find something that worked, this line stayed the same. They have simply become the most consistent Ranger line this season, and it showed last night. Coach John Tortorella puts so much trust in the trio, that they were matched against the Sedin line for almost every single second they were out there. Not sure if you noticed, but they were damn successful too.
What may have escaped several people is that this third line led comprised three of the top four time-on-ice leaders from last night’s game. Only Brandon Dubinsky (second in TOI, with 18:50) cracked the top-four (Fedotenko – 19:30, Boyle – 18:35, Prust – 17:53). To put things in perspective, Gaborik finished with 17:06 TOI. That’s a big chunk of ice time to be giving a third line that consists of two journeymen and an underachieving first round draft pick from that epic 2003 class. All three have put in the effort required to not only make the team, but to get bumped to the third line and play significant minutes against the opponent’s best lines.
In fact, looking at the QUALCOMP numbers (quality of competition faced), this third line is right up there with the Callahan, Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov line in regards to quality of competition faced among forwards, which is the highest on the team*. They are 3rd (Fedotenko), 5th (Boyle), and 6th (Prust) in QUALCOMP, with the aforementioned “Pack Line” holding spots (1st, 4th, 2nd respectively). That speaks volumes to the trust put into this line, and the results given by what has become one of the best third lines in the NHL.
In past seasons, the Rangers third line was the last line of defense before the “dreaded fourth line” came out on the ice. It was generally a spot to place players that had a spot in the future of the organization, but weren’t ready to crack the top-six yet (Dubinsky, Callahan). This year, the third line is a weapon, and has at least two players that will (likely) continue to play with the team in the near future. The line can score (Boyle is 2nd on the team in goals), the line can play defense, they can grind, they control the puck, they play the boards, they kill penalties, they play on the powerplay. They have become a backbone for this Rangers club, and a lead-by-example group that leaves it all out on the ice. In short, this third line does it all.
*-Not including those who haven’t played a full season, like Jeremy Williams and Evgeny Grachev.