If there is a more powerful storyline in the 2014 NHL playoffs than New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis, we’re all ears.
Since suffering the loss of his mom three days before Mother’s Day, St. Louis has four goals and seven points in his last six games. None was bigger than Sunday’s game-winner in overtime that gave the Rangers a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden and 3-1 lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.
"I’ve jumped on him a couple times in overtime, and it never gets old," Rangers center Brad Richards said.
Sunday’s win moved the Rangers within a game of their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994 — and it came exactly 20 years after Rangers captain Mark Messier guaranteed his team would win Game 6 of the conference finals against the New Jersey Devils and then delivered three goals as New York went on to win its first Cup since 1940.
Martin St. Louis goes top shelf: The New York forward was robbed earlier in the game when Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski snared a shot ticketed for the upper half of the net with his glove. So when St. Louis got another chance alone at the left side of the net in overtime, he elected to go just a little higher, ripping a shot over Tokarski’s shoulder and just under the crossbar to give the Rangers a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Failure to clear the zone: Coaches will tell you it’s the simple, safe plays that give teams consistent chances to win. Montreal’s David Desharnais and Andre Markov both had chances to clear the zone before St. Louis’s game-winning goal, but soft attempts up the boards were held in and Rangers forward Carl Hagelin eventually got the puck across to St. Louis all alone.
1. RW Martin St. Louis, New York: With a goal on Sunday, St. Louis has three goals and five points in four games against the Canadiens.
2. LW Carl Hagelin, New York: Hagelin had a shorthanded goal to open the scoring and set up St. Louis to close the scoring.
3. G Henrik Lundqvist, New York: By his standards, this was a ho-hum, 27-save performance, but Lundqvist shouldn’t be penalized for setting the bar so high.
New York 3, Montreal 2 (OT)
Series: New York leads 3-1.
Key stat: Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban’s third-period, power-play goal ended a 27-for-27 penalty-killing streak for New York.
Key player: C Derick Brassard, New York. After missing the last two games with an injury, Brassard returned to the lineup and scored the Rangers’ second goal on a partial breakaway that he blew past goalie Dustin Tokarski.
What we learned: Nothing is going to derail these Rangers from their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years. New York blew two leads, surrendered its first power-play goal in nine games and the Rangers were continually thwarted by Tokarski, whose glove save on Martin St. Louis was the best of several gems. None of that mattered. The Rangers kept applying pressure to Montreal’s beleaguered defense, goalie Henrik Lundqvist rescued the Rangers whenever necessary and St. Louis was on the money when it counted in overtime. It’s too early to write off Montreal in a playoff season in which L.A. has erased a 3-0 series deficit and the Rangers rallied from down 3-1 against Pittsburgh. Yet while the smart money says the Rangers would be overmatched against Chicago or Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup Final due to the season-long superiority of the Western Conference and the experience those two teams have as recent Cup winners, this New York team is a wild card because it is playing its best hockey of the season when it matters most and it has the key ingredients for playoff success: balanced scoring, depth at the center position, a terrific penalty-killing unit and that guy in net, who tied Mike Richter for the franchise lead with his 41st playoff win.
Next game: Tuesday at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET
Final thought: If Chicago was ticked off after a Game 2 collapse against L.A. in the Western Conference Final, how is it feeling after a Game 3 collapse? Resigned? L.A. is getting stronger and stronger as this series progresses, and that had been a quality the Blackhawks thought they could claim over any team in the league.
"It’s time to bring it," captain Jonathan Toews said Saturday. "It’s time to play our best hockey. No more waiting. I think everyone knows and understands we can bring more. We know how good of a team we’re up against and what it’s going to take to beat them."