NEW YORK — The New York Rangers must take notes from the local stage theatre, because the Broadway Blueshirts sure know how to script playoff hockey.
In about two weeks, we’ll remember the 20th anniversary of Mark Messier’s guarantee and subsequent hat trick in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.
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And two decades later, Martin St. Louis authored another moment few in the audience will forget.
Facing elimination, coincidentally also in a Game 6 and on Mother’s Day no less, St. Louis netted New York’s first goal in a game in which it lived to fight another day.
The Rangers roundly spoke of the inspiration surrounding St. Louis’ decision in play in the team’s potential elimination game on Friday — just a day after his mother died suddenly in Montreal. St. Louis is already roundly respected in New York’s dressing room, and his simple appearance lifted the Rangers to a 5-1 win.
“It’s a very unique and unfortunate situation,” Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh said. “He’s gutting it out like a true pro.”
With Game 6 coinciding with Mother’s Day, we in the press all talked about what it would be like if St. Louis registered a hat trick, but that’s the kind of hyperbole humans discuss. He was kept off the score sheet in Game 5, and any alteration from that would’ve made this newsworthy.
When St. Louis came out for his first shift Sunday, the sellout crowd serenaded him with a “Mar-ty!” chant.
Then St. Louis brought the house down.
Just 3:34 in, a Derek Stepan shot hit St. Louis and beat Marc-Andre Fleury, putting the Rangers ahead 1-0. St. Louis punched the air, then punched the end boards. Meanwhile, the Garden exploded, sending a deafening roar and leaving the arena’s shiny new press box shaking.
“I got a pretty good bounce there,” St. Louis said. “I know she’s helping me through this.
“It’s been a tough time for my whole family. To be able to get the lead… it was a good moment.”
It wasn’t the game-winning goal of New York’s 3-1 win, but in a city known for its theatre and with members of St. Louis’ family in the crowd, few could’ve scripted that kind of moment better.
“To see him rewarded with a big goal there,” McDonagh said, “there’s no other way to write a perfect story for him and what’s going on with his family.”
Added Rangers coach Alain Vigneault: “I thought that one, considering it was Mother’s Day, was extra special for our team.”
This wasn’t St. Louis’ initiation moment. He may not have scored many goals since coming over at the trade deadline, but he’s had little trouble becoming one of the guys in the Rangers’ dressing room since, and this weekend has galvanized New York. The hockey club has won two straight against the mighty Penguins, and St. Louis has been a catalyst.
“He fits in with the guys,” Stepan said. “He’s been through a lot. He’s a guy that younger guys can lean on. He’s very approachable. My short time with Marty, I certainly have the utmost respect for him.”
Now the Rangers are headed to familiar territory: Game 7. Tuesday night will mark their fifth advance-or-go-home contest in three seasons — and sixth in the last six seasons.
One more dramatic act for playoff hockey on Broadway.