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Rangers forward Kreider leading rookies in making a young splash in NHL playoffs

Chris Kreider isn't the first NHL rookie to make the big jump from amateur hockey one day, to the playoffs the next.

And if the New York Rangers forward—who already counts two game-winning goals—is having difficulty putting into perspective the sudden splash he's made in transitioning from Boston College's Frozen Four championship season to a potential Stanley Cup run, there are several former stars who can appreciate the goose-bump excitement Kreider might be feeling.

Jeremy Roenick and Pat LaFontaine have been there, and their advice is simple.

Enjoy it.

"It's the best time of the season," said LaFontaine, who went from playing for the U.S. National team to 15 NHL regular-season games before helping the Islanders reach the 1984 Stanley Cup finals.

"I remember somebody said to me, 'What was that like when you first became an NHLer and the playoffs?'" LaFontaine recalled. "And I said, 'I don't even know how to describe it.' It was everything you ever dreamed of times 10."

It's no different for Roenick, who went from playing for the Quebec junior Hull Olympiques to a 10-game playoff stint with the Chicago Blackhawks as a rookie in 1989.

"For me, it's have as much fun as you possibly can and seize the moment, man," said Roenick, who also appeared in 20 regular-season games with the Blackhawks that season. "This is the time of your life."

Oh, and also count both of them impressed with Kreider.

"You really have to be a rare breed, a rare commodity in order to be able to jump in and have an impact right away," Roenick said. "At such a young age, they don't come around very often."

Led by the 21-year-old Kreider, the NHL kids are showing they're more than all right this post-season.

Kreider's tied for the playoff lead in game-winning goals. Flyers rookie forwards Brayden Schenn and Matt Read have combined for six goals and 13 points in 18 games, while Nashville's Gabriel Bourque has three goals and two assists to set a franchise record for playoff points.

And don't forget Devils forward Stephen Gionta. After spending much of his five-year professional career in the minors, Gionta is making the most of his playoff debut with two goals and two assists in 10 games.

"When someone is putting their trust in you to come out and perform, it's something," Gionta said. "You are fulfilling a dream. On top of that, you are looking forward to helping out the team. So you don't want to let anyone down."

The NHL is somewhat unique in how raw rookies with little regular-season experience can make an immediate impact.

The NFL has had its share of unheralded rookies shine in the playoffs, such as Green Bay running back James Starks who went from being sparingly used during his 2010 rookie season to helping the Packers win the Super Bowl. And the NBA enjoyed its taste of "Linsanity" this year after guard Jeremy Lin came from nowhere to provide the New York Knicks' season a spark.

Come playoff time, though, it's the stars who usually shine.

What's different about the NHL is how its roster rules are structured in allowing prospects to step directly into the pressure-packed environment of the playoffs—whether it's filling in for injured players or providing a spark.

Goalie Ken Dryden, in 1971, went from playing six regular-season games as a rookie with Montreal to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in the Canadiens' run to win the Stanley Cup. Then there was Ken Morrow in 1980, who went from winning a gold medal as a member of the U.S. "Miracle On Ice" team at the Lake Placid Olympics to helping the Islanders win the Stanley Cup.

Dino Ciccarelli set the NHL rookie playoff record with 21 points in 19 games for the Minnesota North Stars in 1981—and that was after only 32 games of regular-season experience.

LaFontaine had three goals and nine points in 16 playoff games as a rookie, with his first goal coming in his first game.

"You never forget your first, your first game, your first goal, all those things are extremely special," LaFontaine said. "So when I watch these guys, I remember what it was like. There's no better feeling."

Kreider's production has created a buzz, and not just in the Big Apple.

"I'm like you guys, I watch some of the highlights," Predators coach Barry Trotz said, when asked about Kreider. "He's scored some real big goals and seems like a really good player. ... Usually, you'll find peaks and valleys. But it's impressive. His skating ability is very impressive."

Kreider is doing his best to keep his perspective. His first goal sealed the Rangers' 3-2 first-round win over Ottawa in Game 6 of their seven-game series. He then had the go-ahead goal and an assist in New York's 3-1 second-round-opening win over Washington.

"It's crazy, but I don't think I've had the opportunity to kind of say, 'Look where I am,'" Kreider said Friday. "I have to just focus on the here and now, keep my head down, keep working hard."

And he shouldn't forget to enjoy himself, Roenick said.

"There's no question that this is the time of your life," Roenick said. "Just get on the ice and go. Show how excited you are to be in the National Hockey League and don't worry about making mistakes. Have as much fun as you possibly can."

____

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., Tom Canavan in Newark, N.J., and freelancer Ben Standig in Washington contributed to this story.

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