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Rangers' Brassard continues to deliver against Penguins

| Thursday, April 16, 2015, 10:42 p.m.

NEW YORK — Richard M. Nixon is not the only person with an enemies list.

Take, for example, the Penguins, for whom the mere mention of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara or P.K. Subban would be enough to elicit scowls.

A few more playoff performances like he has delivered recently, and Derick Brassard might find himself among those the Penguins despise.

Even if he doesn't have “an idea” why he's successful against the Penguins.

“I have no answer,” Brassard said when asked after the New York Rangers' 2-1 win Thursday night in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden.

“I just enjoy playing against the Penguins.”

Since being acquired from Columbus with John Moore and Derek Dorsett in 2013 in a blockbuster deal that sent Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets, Brassard has recorded 25 points in 36 playoff games spanning three postseasons.

Against the Penguins, Brassard has six points in eight playoff games. In last May's second-round series, Brassard led the Rangers with four goals and five points in New York's seven-game, come-from-behind series win.

It was more of the same Thursday night.

Brassard played a significant role in the win, scoring the series-opening goal 28 seconds into the first period.

The goal was the culmination of a sequence that underscored why many view the Rangers as Stanley Cup favorites.

New York used its speed and skill to attack the Penguins up the ice, leading to Rick Nash's off-wing drive that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury kicked to the middle of the ice.

Rebounds to the slot are not ideal at the best of times. In this instance, it allowed the Presidents' Trophy winners to draw first blood.

Driving to the net, Brassard beat Paul Martin to the loose puck before driving a one-timer into the net.

Nash, Brassard said, “did it on purpose. He tried to shoot for a rebound. I was wide open and got a lucky bounce.”

About 14 minutes and change later, Brassard contributed to New York's second goal in a more intangible fashion.

With the Rangers on their third of four first-period power plays, Brassard's screen obstructed Fleury's view of Ryan McDonagh's slap shot until the puck settled into the net to give New York a 2-0 lead.

When the final horn sounded, Brassard had completed a night in which he scored a goal, took five shots, threw three hits in 15:45 of ice time that spanned 27 shifts. He also won 12 of the 25 faceoffs he took.

“They bring out the best in us,” said Brassard, whose five points against the Penguins in the regular season were second most on the Rangers.

He finished the regular season with career highs in goals (19), assists (41) and points (60) while centering a line with Nash and Mats Zuccarello.

Denis Gorman is a freelance writer.

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