TAMPA– Ryan McDonagh didn’t spend much time reflecting on his former life as captain of the New York Rangers during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Initial nostalgia aside for reliving the Stanley Cup Playoffs again at Madison Square Garden, where McDonagh and the Tampa Bay Lightning took the Rangers to a crucial Game 5 on Thursday (8:00 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS). will visit. , the defender was all business.
“Maybe a little bit of a feeling of just playing some of these games at the Garden, maybe the first game,” McDonagh said. “But at this point in the series, I’m just concentrating on my job every single shift.”
After Tampa Bay even won its last two home games against the best-of-7 series, a win Thursday can take Tampa Bay a significant step in its quest for a third straight Stanley Cup championship.
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]
McDonagh was a fixture in these high-pressure games throughout his 12 NHL seasons, including the first eight with the Rangers, before being traded to Lightning on February 26, 2018.
McDonagh has never missed the playoffs since entering the NHL in 2010-11 and will play in his 178th postseason game on Thursday to advance Yevgeny Malkin the Pittsburgh Penguins ranked fifth among active players.
This is McDonagh’s seventh Conference Finals/League Semifinals and he’s targeting his fourth trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and a date with Colorado Avalanche, the Western Conference champion. McDonagh played in three conference finals with the Rangers, losing to the New Jersey Devils in 2012 and the Lightning in 2015, and defeating the Montreal Canadiens to reach the cup final in 2014 before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
He captained his last four seasons with New York.
“‘Mac’ is one of the best people I’ve ever played with,” Rangers said Chris Kreider, who was McDonagh’s teammate for seven seasons. “I learned so much from him about how to be a pro, how to behave on and off the ice. The number of things he’s done for our group when he’s here is a very, very long list. I mean, he was ours. “Example of what it was like to be a ranger.”
As New York began rebuilding in 2018, Tampa Bay jumped at the opportunity to sign a defenseman with McDonagh’s pedigree, signing him on a seven-year contract extension after that season. He was instrumental in getting Lightning over the hump of winning the Stanley Cup after repeated disappointments in the 2020 playoffs, and after winning the trophy again last season, they aim to become the first team to win it since New York in three consecutive seasons, The Islanders’ Run wins four consecutive championships from 1980-83.
“That was the first step for us to become the team we are today,” said Lightning Forward Alex Killorn said trading for McDonagh. “…Since he’s here, [he has been] a leader on this team, a guy who, if you think about the last few playoff series, is one of our best, if not our best, players.
Anaheim Ducks defender Kevin Shattenkirk was playing for Rangers when McDonagh was traded and recalls the signal she sent to her players 18 days after management sent a letter to fans detailing their plan to rebuild.
“I think every time a captain is traded, you somehow know that letter was really business related,” Shattenkirk said. “…Well, it was just hard and I think it was hard for him too. He was a New York Ranger his whole career and had to grow into that role and then had to be transferred somewhere else, especially when they were going through the rebuild, I think he would have been happy to be a part of that.”
Instead, McDonagh joined the Lightning and quickly integrated into their dressing room to become an alternate captain. McDonagh, an exemplary frontrunner, has saved 404 shots in the playoffs, the most in the NHL since the league began tracking stats in 2005-06.
McDonagh again leads the Lightning with 43 blocked shots (one behind Jacob Trouba Rangers for the NHL lead) with his four points (one goal, three assists) in 15 playoff games this season.
“He’s not an overly vocal guy, but when he speaks it carries a lot of weight,” said Shattenkirk, who signed with the Lightning in 2019 and won the trophy with them in 2020. “But I think his game is what’s coming. Everybody has to have a stake in what they’re selling. He just puts his body on the line and that’s a real indication that he’s really willing to do anything to win.
“You can see how that has carried over to the team and of course over the last couple of years when they won the trophy.”
McDonagh is approaching his 33rd birthday on June 13 and has set his sights on winning the trophy again. With the Rangers’ rebuilding essentially complete, they stand in his way.
If McDonagh still has any feelings about this, he’s already pushed them aside.
“Right now we’re in the middle of another playoff run with a great opportunity to do something special,” said McDonagh. “So we’re just trying to focus on that and continue to build on our success here.”