Rangers’ rookie Kevin Hayes netted the overtime winner on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh giving New York a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back to MSG.
It was the 22-year-old’s first career Stanley Cup playoff goal in just his fourth career postseason game.
Hayes, a free agent signing out of Boston College last summer, has been a surprise fit for the Rangers.
“Oh, it would be completely different,” Rangers GM Glen Sather told the New York Post Wednesday night. “Not only wouldn’t we have had him, but we would have had to go out and gotten somebody else [to fill the role as third-line center].”
Hayes had 44 goals and 132 points in 142 games with the Eagles over four seasons. The Blackhawks draft pick was unable to come terms with Chicago making him a free agent last August.
The Boston native had 17 goals and 28 assists in 79 regular season games with the Rangers.
Hayes rookie campaign has surprised even Sather.
“No, I didn’t envision it would happen this quickly,” Sather said. “It’s very rare to be able to do what he’s done. He’s a very smart player, he learns quickly and he’s a great kid.
“The mistake I made was not getting his brother from Chicago,” he said, alluding to Jimmy Hayes, who was in the Blackhawks’ organization for a few years before joining the Florida Panthers last season. “I wanted to, but it just didn’t work out.”
The Rangers can close out their series with the Penguins on Friday night.