LOS ANGELES — All those years being so close to the ultimate goal have built up inside Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and crystallized as extra motivation.
McDonagh was rewarded for his revitalized individual performance through the first half of this season by being the Rangers’ lone representative in this NHL All-Star weekend, starting with Saturday’s skills competition and followed by Sunday’s 3-on-3 tournament at Staples Center.
But last season’s disappointing five-game first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Penguins did not sit well with McDonagh, not after three of the previous four years ended in the conference final or the Stanley Cup final.
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“Like any player, you want to play up to your full potential or what you think is your best ability,” McDonagh told The Post prior to leaving for the break.
The Rangers are 31-17-1, two points out of third in the terrific Metropolitan Division, behind the Capitals, Blue Jackets and Penguins, while solidly eight points clear of the ninth-place Maple Leafs.
“Had a long summer to think and work on a lot of stuff,” McDonagh said. “Pretty motivated here to not only play for myself, but play for this team and get something done here. We’ve been talking about it for a while. So that’s been a big motivation key for me, keeping my focus on my game and where it needs to be.”
During those deep runs into the postseason, the Rangers’ strength always was defense and goaltending. But last season, the defense started to crack, and it seemed like all those cheap nhl jerseys authentic hard, tight-checking games were catching up to them. Even McDonagh, who splendidly skated his way to Norris Trophy consideration en route to the 2014 Stanley Cup final, where the lost to the Kings in five games, had fallen off. It was the culmination of injuries to his shoulder and his foot and all of those short summers inadequate for proper rehabilitation and a training regimen to prepare for the grind of the NHL season.
But general manager Jeff Gorton also saw how the past was going to affect the future. So he retooled his team under the tight restraints of the salary cap and added youth, speed and skill up front. Yet it still was imperative McDonagh respond for the Blueshirts to be good again.
He did, and they are.
“Our group is real focused,” McDonagh said. “We’ve been consistent in our game. For me, that really helps. Certainly we’re a fast team, and myself, as a good skater, want to try to keep evolving the play. And the skill that we’ve added, seems like more opportunities have been there for me to contribute offensively and defensively. So just really trying to focus on making the right read on if there’s an opportunity or not and also make sure I set a good example for a lot of the new faces here.”
Now in his third year of the captaincy, the broad-shouldered 27-year-old out of St. Paul, Minn., is becoming more comfortable in the limelight. If the “culture” of an organization can be described by example, then McDonagh is the one at whom the Rangers front office wants everyone to look.
“He’s grown into this position,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “He’s his own man. He understands the culture that myself and [Gorton] want to bring to this team. He’s a great extension of when we’re not around of what to do and how to do it. We’re very fortunate to have a gentleman of his caliber be captain of this team.”
It also helps that in his seventh season in the league, McDonagh is on pace to surpass his career-best points total. He is second on the team with 26 assists and has added two goals while continuing to grow into his role as the quarterback of the power play.
“Certainly the power-play time really helps, confidence-wise, especially plays on the blue line and getting shots,” he said. “Probably wish I had a few more goals at this point, but the way our forwards have been able to create opportunities, I feel like I’ve focused a lot on distributing and getting them pucks in situations to finish. So far, it’s helped us win a lot of hockey games.”
This is McDonagh’s second All-Star appearance after his debut last season in Nashville, Tenn. But what a difference a year can make, and McDonagh is proud to represent his own revitalized game as well as that of his team.
“Very excited, very honored,” McDonagh said. “We have a lot of guys on this team that are having great seasons and worthy of All-Star consideration, so I’ll try to represent our team as best I can.”
Players and coaches always say nobody’s 100% at this time of year after a grueling regular season and the war of attrition that is postseason hockey.
Rick Nash seemed like a player who was hampered physically in this series, missing two practices after the Rangers advanced to the second round for maintenance days, and at times in the six-game, second-round tilt not looking quite like himself after a dominant first round.
“Everyone’s battling around injuries,” Nash said after registering six shots cheap jerseys authentic in the Rangers’ 4-2, Game 6 elimination loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. “I don’t want to use anything as a crutch or an excuse.”
Nash declined to say whether he would’ve been playing if this were the regular season.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to be one of those guys that are complaining, but it was a battle,” Nash said. “I had some things that were bothering me, but it’s playoffs and everyone plays through injuries.”
The 32-year-old winger finished with five points (three goals, two assists) in 12 games. He last scored in Game 3 but was held without a point for the final three games of the series.
The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play in Game 6, failing to convert on a four-minute man-advantage in the first period when Derick Brassard was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking friend Mats Zuccarello in the face.
The Blueshirts finished the series 2-for-24 on the power play and went 3-for-39 across 12 postseason matches.
“Our power play was well prepared,” Alain Vigneault said. “Our guys knew where the opportunities would come from and at the end of the day we didn’t execute quickly enough. Tonight we had a couple of looks but it obviously wasn’t good enough.”
There was no answer the Rangers could provide for Erik Karlsson on Tuesday, Henrik Lundqvist’s compatriot proving why he’s one of the best players in the NHL with his two-point, plus-4 performance to lead the Senators to the conference final, all while playing through fractures in his heel.
The Montreal Canadiens received a scare at Tuesday’s practice when captain Max Pacioretty took a stick to the face.
Pacioretty was accidentally high-sticked by forward Michael McCarron in front of the net during a drill and skated off seemingly in pain, clutching the left side of his face.
It was unclear when he first went down how severe the injury was, and it’s unknown whether or not he’s expected to miss any cheap nhl jerseys authentic time. Canadiens coach Claude Julien told reporters that Pacioretty will be re-evaluated Wednesday morning but feels confident he will be fine for Game 1.
The Canadiens begin their first-round series against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre Wednesday.
OTTAWA — The game was a mess, but what a glorious, unpredictable, entertaining playoff mess it was. Unless, of course, you are Henrik Lundqvist, one of his teammates or one of the citizens of Rangerstown.
Then it was a disaster.
Give Lundqvist and the Rangers a two-goal lead in the third period of a playoff game, and you are home free. At least you had been every time since Game 4 of the 2011 first round — when those Blueshirts could not handle a 3-0 lead against the Capitals and lost 4-3 in double-overtime.
Give Lundqvist five goals, and he is home free — well, except for Game 3 of the 2015 conference finals and the 6-5 overtime defeat to the Lightning.
But not in this Game 2 on Saturday, in which The King was not nearly good enough, and the Rangers could not protect a 5-3 lead they held until 3:19 remained in regulation. That is when a rather unheralded fellow named Jean-Gabriel Pageau morphed into Rocket Richard by scoring twice on deflections to complete a hat trick by the end of the third period, tying the score at 18:58 before recording his fourth goal on a two-on-one left wing screamer to give the Senators a 6-5 victory at 2:54 of the second overtime.
Somehow the Rangers could not win this one. Somehow they are down 2-0 and must win four of a remaining possible five games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against an opponent they have given a boatload of confidence.
Somehow Lundqvist must elevate his game following an afternoon on which he seemed off balance throughout and was unable to carry the baton cheap nhl jerseys over the finish line after his teammates had battled through myriad errors to stake the goaltender to three different two-goal leads at 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3.
“I wasn’t moving as well as in other games,” Lundqvist said. “I wasn’t good enough.”
No, he wasn’t, and if he isn’t at the top of his game when the series resumes with Tuesday’s Game 3 at the Garden, the Rangers won’t have even a prayer of coming back in this Round 2.
Lundqvist still was wearing his pads when he talked to the media after sitting in his stall for up to 15 minutes with his head down and clasped between his hands. The goaltender never quite had a grip on this game. He seemed to acknowledge that when asked if he felt secure with the late lead in a game filled with ebbs and flows each way.
“You’re never 100 percent safe, sure or comfortable,” the goaltender said. “You sort of have it under control, but then there are quick plays.”
There were quick plays and there were plays off the rush and there was a late tying goal with the opposition goaltender pulled just as there was in the Game 2 overtime defeat in Montreal. There was Alain Vigneault cutting down to three lines in the third period and in overtime after juggling his line combinations to start the second period. There, for some unknown reason, was Brendan Smith playing just 2:34 in the third.
There were a pair of shorthanded goals and pair of goals from Brady the Skjei-Hey Kid. There were three kills within the game’s opening 12:18. There was Chris Kreider reemerging to score his first of the playoffs, but there was also Rick Nash somehow unable to put the puck into what appeared an empty net after coming out from behind the net with 9:00 remaining in the first OT, the puck perhaps poked off his stick by Cody Ceci or Kyle Turris. There was a much more assertive effort from Kevin Hayes, but there was also a poor pinch from Nick Holden on the right boards on what became Pageau’s game winner.
And there was Lundqvist, who started his afternoon by yielding a right wing short-sider to Pageau at 13:59 of the first period that negated Michael Grabner’s early shorthanded score. Or perhaps, there Lundqvist was not. Pucks just seemed to elude him, long ones and tips. He had trouble keeping his feet and was on the seat of his pants when Mark Stone scored from in front to make it 4-3 early in the third period.
“Even though those are tough saves, I have to find the way,” Lundqvist said. “That’s my job.”
In Game 2, he did not do it well enough. And as such, the heavy lifting begins for the Rangers after this mess they left behind in Ottawa.
Erik Karlsson’s ongoing foot issues flared up again Sunday, relegating the Senators’ captain to the locker room for the final period of a 7-0 loss to the Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Karlsson, who’s played the entire postseason with fractures in his left foot, appeared to aggravate the injury when he became entangled with Pittsburgh forward Scott Wilson and twisted his ankle toward the end of the second period. The defenseman went to the locker room and didn’t return for the start of the third period with the Senators trailing 5-0.
Cody Ceci and Derick Brassard joined Karlsson in the dressing room for the third period with undisclosed injuries.
Senators coach cheap nhl jerseys authentic Guy Boucher said after the game all three players were “resting” and could have played if the outcome had been in doubt.
“The score wasn’t what we wanted. We decided to shorten down the bench and get ready for the next game,” Karlsson told reporters.
The Norris Trophy finalist has had no trouble playing through the pain over the last month. In the second round, he was forced to miss the third period of a Game 5 loss to the Rangers because of the injury and returned to scored five points in the final two games of the series to help the Sens to the East finals.
Karlsson, who leads the team with 15 playoff points, skated 12:36 before his exit Sunday.
Asked if he’ll be able to play Tuesday as the Senators attempt to force a Game 7, Karlsson said his injury is a non-issue.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Same as against the Rangers, same mentality, same thing. We all need to move on from this pretty quick. It’s wrong to say but I’d rather lose like this than in overtime or anything.”