Brian MacLellan was standing tall yesterday, after his second goal of the game lifted the New York Rangers to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals in Thursday's opener of the Patrick Division final series.
Actually, at 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, MacLellan stands tall all the time. His size was a big advantage in scoring his first goal Thursday, as he reached far out to move the puck from forehand to backhand and lifted it high over the left shoulder of goalie Pete Peeters.
"That was a remarkable shot," Peeters said. "Only a guy his size could have made a move like that."
Sometimes, size can be a handicap of sorts, however, and that has been the case much of the time since MacLellan came to the Rangers from Los Angeles Dec. 9 in a trade for goalie Roland Melanson and defenseman Grant Ledyard. The New York fans, simply put, cannot understand why MacLellan does not consistently put opposition tough guys through the glass.
"Being bigger, the fans want you to fight all the time," MacLellan said. "They want you to take on the bigger guys on the other team, guys that are out there just for that purpose.
"But you have to play to your personality. I'm no enforcer. Philadelphia's Tim Kerr and Boston's Charlie Simmer are big guys who don't fight all the time. I'll fight if I have to, but I want to play the game."
If MacLellan were scoring like Kerr and Simmer, the fans might be understanding. During the regular season, however, he managed only 16 goals in 78 games and finished with a minus-33 rating.
"If I'm scoring goals, people won't say much, but I haven't been scoring," MacLellan said. "I'm disappointed with the season. I was looking for a big year and it feels like I wasted it. Sixteen goals are nothing to be proud of.
"I thought the trade would be a good chance to start over, because I'd gone 10 or 11 games without a goal in L.A. But it wasn't an easy transition. The Kings were always thinking offense and here they have a defense-oriented style."
Then MacLellan developed a severe groin pull. Playing hurt made everything worse -- production, fan abuse and the groin itself.
"I had played before with injuries and contributed, but I got in trouble and I wasn't as strong. I didn't play as well and I kept getting demoted, until I was on the fourth line getting hardly any shifts.
"I've learned from this experience, and it was a good feeling to contribute last night. I've played pretty well the last few games and it's starting to come back . . . It's just taken a pretty long adjustment. It takes a lot of discipline to play this game."
But New York has been a puzzle.
"That city has me buffaloed," said MacLellan, who attended Bowling Green University and is from Guelph, Ontario. "The fans are tough to play for. They're good when you're going good, but they get down on you pretty quick."
At least, Coach Ted Sator no longer is down on MacLellan. "We wanted Brian to step to the forefront and he's played very well of late," Sator said. "One of the things he's worked at is getting the puck out of our zone. He came here rebounding from a weak groin and, as the groin has strengthened, his play has strengthened."