‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Ten years after leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to their first Stanley Cup championship, veteran Rangers teammates Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis have played an essential role in guiding the Blueshirts to their first finals appearance since 1994.
Only four victories separate this current generation of Rangers from replicating the ecstatic joy that Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves and Co. brought to the streets of New York when the Rangers ended their infamous 54-year championship drought.
Make no mistake, the Rangers would have been eliminated far earlier if not for the calming, even-keeled influence that Richards and St. Louis have cultivated inside the dressing room and on the ice. This Rangers team does not panic. That’s because St. Louis and Richards constantly relay a messages of staying the course and have promoted a culture of self-belief.
St. Louis’ confidence has spread like wildfire through the locker room. Since the day he arrived, St. Louis has been boldly staring in the eye the challenge of leading the Rangers to finals. That kind of fearlessness earned him immediate respect among his new teammates.
“Obviously, I was old enough to see the Rangers win in ’94,” St. Louis said following his first game as a Ranger on March 5. “I know what winning brings. This is what I’m playing for.
“As you get older, you want to get more kicks of the can,” he added. “There was some times that (becoming a Ranger) definitely crossed my mind. I couldn’t be more confident about the timing for me right now.”
After the Rangers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in six games, St. Louis reiterated that the chance to compete for another Stanley Cup was a driving reason for his desire to come to New York.
“This is a big reason why I came here,” St. Louis said. “This is what I thought about when I came here.”
A RANGER THROUGH THE TOUGH TIMES
St. Louis is grateful for the support his teammates have offered throughout the weeks following the passing of his mother, France.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough year for me,” St. Louis said. “This makes it pretty cool. Being somewhere for 13, 14 years and changing teams to get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup finals with these teammates of mine, who have been nothing but great through my tough time in the past few weeks, it makes it even more special. I am proud to be a Ranger and do it alongside these great teammates.”
St. Louis’ message to teammates experiencing their first Stanley Cup finals is to take everything in, but also be prepared to give their all, and leave everything on the ice.
“Obviously, enjoy the moment right now,” St. Louis said. “But we’re not done. It’s going to be fun. Obviously, take it all in – but leave it all out there as well.”
RICHARDS HAS THRIVED IN ROLE AS DEFACTO CAPTAIN
Following the Ryan Callahan-St. Louis trade deadline captain swap, Richards immediately stepped forward as the Rangers’ captain without the actual title.
“I think when you lose our captain, and you have to recognize when the room needs things,” Richards said. “I said, when you’re in the league, you just kind of know. You get a feel for the locker room, and I think it’s been a good challenge for me to try to help out that way.”
The experienced Richards had deferred to Callahan out respect for the man wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey. Back then, it was unquestionably Callahan’s room. He expressed constant positivity during interviews and expected younger players to follow his lead when speaking to the media.
Now, there are more voices heard inside the locker room. Younger players are no longer repeating the clichéd, mantras of the Callahan era. The current Rangers are honest with themselves. No player is walking on eggshells, in an attempt to follow the party line.
With John Tortorella out of the picture, Alain Vigneault offered his players the latitude to be themselves on and off the ice, no player forced into any kind of defense-first prototype, as was the case during Tortorella’s reign. Vigneault is taking the best strengths of his players and incorporating them into appropriate roles. He is making every player feel valuable because of his open communication and fair distribution of minutes.
The breath of fresh air from the Vigneault-Richards dynamic has undoubtedly had a positive effect on this team.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said that when Richards speaks, the message is taken to heart because Richards’ eyes have seen everything there is to see in this league. He’s reached to the Stanley Cup mountaintop and won the Conn Smythe.
“The way he speaks to us, it really hits home right away because you know he’s been through it,” McDonagh said. “Everything he says is kind of happening on the ice throughout a series — the ups and the downs, battling through injuries and suspensions, different guys having to come in and join us. He’s been tremendous since he’s got here, and I think he’s taken it to a whole other level here in this playoffs.”
RICHARDS: ‘I NEVER IMAGINED MARTY BEING HERE’
Richards and St. Louis expected to make another run at Lord Stanley in Tampa, but the squeeze of the salary cap forced the Lightning to deal Richards to Dallas at the 2008 trade deadline. What Richards never expected was to be reunited with St. Louis in New York. Richards admitted that “it’s a pretty cool feeling” to have his old ally alongside him during this run.
“It’s hard to believe, 10 years goes by so quick,” Richards said. “We were just talking about we definitely thought we’d be back after winning in Tampa and the lockout and all that stuff happened, and the salary cap and the team just didn’t stay together too long. Never would have thought we’d be here today in New York doing it. Even to start the season, I never imagined Marty being here. So the fact that all of that has come back, it’s great.
“We’ve created so many friendships this year. Our group has come together so much, but obviously Marty and I go back a long way. And we don’t want it to be about us. But it’s still a pretty cool feeling,” he added.
STAAL ON DOM MOORE: ‘HE’S NOT AFRAID OF BIG MOMENTS’
Dominic Moore scored the goal that propelled the Blueshirts to the finals.
The 33-year-old forward is a big reason why the Rangers’ fourth line, consisting of him, Brain Boyle and Derek Dorsett, is one of the strongest fourth lines in the league. The trio constantly chugs with full effort, an in-your-face attitude and fearlessness.
Rangers alternate captain Marc Staal praised Moore’s ability to perform under pressure.
“He’s not afraid of big moments and every time we’ve had a big-game, he’s stepped up with a great performance,” Staal said. “He’s a guy that talks about it a lot, too, not being afraid to make mistakes and going out there and playing confident and that’s exactly what he did. He scored a huge goal for us.”
Both Moore and St. Louis have dealt with challenges in their personal lives. Moore lost his wife, Katie, on Jan. 7, 2013, following her courageous battle with a rare form of liver cancer. He opted to sit out the entirety of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season that began weeks later on Jan. 19. Moore had a number of offers to play that season. When he expressed a desire to return during the offseason, the Rangers’ remained highly interested and Moore agreed to a one-year deal.
Richards said that both Moore and St. Louis feel as if “someone’s watching over them and helping them out.”
“I mean, there’s been quite a few story lines this year, and those two are obviously big ones,” Richards said. “There always seem to be little things that you can grab and build on, and that is what makes it so special to win a Stanley Cup, so many things you go through. The stars have to align, and it’s great that those guys have the feeling that someone’s watching over them and helping them out.”
Vigneault believes that both St. Louis and Moore have found a sanctuary on the ice and from the camaraderie of being around their teammates.
“I know both him and Marty have gone through some challenging times,” Vigneault said. “I think they’ve found refuge. They’ve found away to find a place where they can be happy, and that is at the rink with their teammates and on the ice. They’ve both been very inspirational leaders throughout the whole thing. Very happy to have them both.”
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey
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