The New York Rangers value defenseman Ryan McDonagh's leadership just as much as his contributions on the ice, and losing him for any period of time would leave a major hole in the lineup.
They're about to face that scenario, as the captain will miss his first game of the season Monday night with the Rangers seeking their first three-game winning streak since November in a home game against the New Jersey Devils.
McDonagh has elevated his play over the last month, recording two goals and seven assists in his last 12 and finishing with one of each in Thursday's win over Minnesota. But after being whistled for four minutes of penalties in the first period against Philadelphia on Saturday, McDonagh was sucker-punched by Wayne Simmonds and fell to the ice.
Article continues below ...
He didn't return as the Rangers (29-18-5) fought back for a 3-2 shootout victory, and he won't play against the Devils (26-20-7) after being diagnosed with a concussion.
Coach Alain Vigneault did not giving a timetable for how long McDonagh will be out.
“When something like this happens to a teammate – especially your captain and someone as valuable to the team as he is – it's a big blow,” rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who will replace McDonagh in Monday's lineup, told the team's official website.
Keith Yandle's goal with 12.9 seconds left in regulation extended the game before Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan scored in the shootout.
“When you lose your captain, a guy like Mac, it's tough,” Yandle said. “The emotions were really high and we wanted to go out there and really have his back. Finding a way to get the two points is huge.”
Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves to help bring New York to the verge of winning three straight for the first time since a nine-game run from Oct. 25-Nov. 15. Chris Kreider scored for the second straight game to get the Rangers on the board early in the final period.
''In the third, we played our best hockey,'' Lundqvist said. ''We had the determination to get the things done. I think it shows to ourselves what type of mentality that you need to win games.''
The Rangers weren't able to hold on against New Jersey on Tuesday, though, allowing goals to rookie Joseph Blandisi and David Schlemko in the third period of a 3-2 defeat.
Lee Stempniak scored in that contest and also found the net in overtime to give the Devils a 2-1 victory in the first meeting Oct. 18 to end a six-game losing streak in the series.
New Jersey has gone 5-1-2 since Jan. 16 and is tied with Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, but it has allowed the tying goal late in the third in each of its last two, falling 3-2 in shootouts against Toronto on Thursday and Washington on Saturday.
Blandisi, who made his NHL debut Dec. 11 and has played 14 games, finished with a goal and an assist to give him three goals and five assists over his last six.
''We know we are in a race and we want to try to remain competitive and find a way to win more games than we lose,'' coach John Hynes said. “When you get a lead like that you know the puck is going to be funneled to the slot or crease area. We're there, but there's a difference between being there and paying attention to details when there.”
Cory Schneider allowed two goals or fewer for the 12th time in his last 14 starts, a stretch during which he's posted a 1.72 goals-against average. He's been in net for both meetings against the Rangers this season, stopping 57 of 60 shots.
Lundqvist has a 1.64 GAA in his last six against the Devils.