When the Rangers undertook their rebuild, Ryan McDonagh was one of the players dealt away in the name of getting younger.
Now, four years and two Stanley Cup titles later, McDonagh is leading the Lightning back into Madison Square Garden for the Eastern Conference Final.
The 32-year-old defenseman is one of the most important pieces on Tampa Bay’s back end, averaging 22:27 of ice time during the regular season and just six seconds more during the playoffs. For Chris Kreider, there’s a personal element of seeing the former Rangers captain as well.
“Mac is one of the best humans I’ve ever played with,” Kreider said Tuesday. “I learned so much from him about how to be a pro, how to conduct yourself on and off the ice. The number of things he did for our group when he was here, it’s a very, very long list.
“He was our example of what it was to be a Ranger. He’s been instrumental for them and all the success that they’ve had. I don’t know if you’d call him an unsung hero, because he does it so often. Does it every single shift. So it’s kind of obvious what he brings to the table at this point.”
Much of that role is now Kreider’s to fill. After the team’s Game 7 win over the Hurricanes, Kreider said he feels differently about this group than the 2015 squad that lost to Tampa Bay in the conference finals, “cause all of a sudden, I’m the old guy.”
On Tuesday, he was again asked about that series, in which he finished with four points and McDonagh with three.
“I think that group, our group was maybe 6-0 or 7-0 in Game 7s,” Kreider said. “And I don’t think Tampa had played in a Game 7 yet, and they beat us. So I think experience matters. And having guys who have been there and know what it takes to win matters. Same time, we have those guys on our team so at the end of the day, it’s a hockey game.”
That experience turned out to be just what the Lightning needed when they traded for McDonagh a season after a shocking failure to reach the playoffs.
“I think you know that was the kind of first piece going forward for us, becoming the team that we are today,” Tampa’s Alex Killorn said Tuesday. “He could tell you more about everything that happened that day. I think ever since he’s been here, a leader on this team. A guy that when you think about the last couple playoff series, one of our best if not our best player.”
News Source: nypost.com