There's something nearly poetic about the scheduling of Game 6 of the Rangers-Penguins series. That if the Rangers didn't get eliminated on Friday, New York's next crack at hockey—their first at home since Martin St. Louis suffered a unexpected personal tragedy—would take place on Mother's Day.
It had been just one day after St. Louis arrived in Pittsburgh, only to immediate travel to Montreal to be with his family in mourning. If you were caught by surprise by St. Louis' decision, to compete in an elimination, high-stakes playoff game in the direct aftermath of a terrible tragedy, also consider this: The 38-year-old forward spent his last 12-plus seasons in Tampa Bay, making up just about all of his 13-year career. It was only two months and five days ago he became a part of the Rangers organization. But what we learned yesterday, and what St. Louis' personal tragedy has taught us, is this team is stronger than we knew.
First was Derick Brassard, a snake-bitten Rangers forward who had his best offensive game of the postseason. But his postgame comments spoke volumes to the cohesiveness of this team, and how quickly they were able to rally around a new teammate.
Brassard on MSL: "At the airport, we knew he had to go, but I’ll bet you if we could have gone, the whole team would have gone with him."— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) May 10, 2014
Then there was Ryan McDonagh, one of the Rangers' quiet leaders, who hasn't looked the same since suffering a shoulder injury April 1. His health has certainly been improving, but last night looked more like the McDonagh of old. And whether or not he was one of the many Rangers' players who upped their intensity level in the wake of adversity can certainly be asked, but here is what we know for sure: The Rangers put together their most complete 60 minute effort with their backs against the wall, and the emotional stakes much higher.
Which brings us to Sunday, another elimination game, and another chance for the Rangers to extend their season, and force a decisive Game 7. And just like Friday night's game comes circumstance, a day on which we celebrate our mothers, and a day that will possibly be even more emotionally taxing for St. Louis.
"I knew deep down my mom would want me to play this game and be proud of me coming here to help as much as I can," said St. Louis after Game 5. "I'm thankful for the time I got to spend with my father [on Thursday] and I know he's proud of me like my mom is proud.
"She was a great lady, best human being I've ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it. I know she would want me to do it."
On Sunday, St. Louis will be welcomed by a Madison Square Garden crowd that, given the circumstances, should be as raucous as its been this season. If the Rangers taught us anything Friday night, it's that a group that has been called flat, inconsistent, and overmatched in this second round series it's that they're game to this new task.
Again, the effort the Rangers showed on Friday is the most complete they've shown all playoffs, and they owed it to their new teammate, who's been lauded for his character through his NHL career.
It was an emotional night for the veteran forward. We often lose sight that of the fact that these professional athletes that we build up, we chisel out to be super-human and above the normal trials and tribulations of life are not exempt from the rules. But when it comes to how the Rangers as a team responded to this latest episode of adversity, the locker room can find solace in that they were able to—if only for a night—help a fellow teammate breathe a little easier, carry himself a little lighter, and skate to an emotional and monumental victory.