Rangers rookie Kevin Hayes’ first career playoff goal is OT winner

Rangers rookie Kevin Hayes had a great regular season, but he had been held off the score sheet through the first three games of New York’s first-round series against Pittsburgh. Hayes struck in overtime, though, netting the overtime winner to give the Rangers a 3-1 series lead.

This past off-season, Kevin Hayes was the hottest unsigned NCAA free agent. Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2010, Chicago couldn’t get the big center under contract before he was eligible for free agency and the New York Rangers swooped in and inked Hayes to an entry-level deal.

Now, almost eight months to the day after Hayes inked his deal, the rookie has netted his first career playoff goal — and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. In overtime of Game 4 of the opening round series between the Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, Hayes found a loose puck at the side of the goal and, with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury flat on his back, Hayes shovelled the puck into the net for the overtime winner:

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During the regular season, Hayes was one of the highest scoring freshmen, netting 17 goals and 45 points in 79 games.

While he hasn’t been the most utilized forward in the arsenal of Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, Hayes played nearly 16 minutes Wednesday night, the most ice time he’s gotten in the playoffs. By throwing Hayes on the ice in overtime, Vigneault was rewarded and so were the Rangers. Hayes was named the game’s first star for his efforts.

With the victory, New York now has a 3-1 series stranglehold as they head back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 Friday evening.