NEW YORK—This is why the New York Rangers traded their captain and two first-round draft picks.
This is why Marty St. Louis spends a portion of nearly every practice snapping pucks under the crossbar from the right face-off circle.
Everything has come together for the Rangers during the playoffs, and now they are one victory away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
Foiled twice by the catching glove of Dustin Tokarski in a Game 3 loss, St. Louis unleashed a precision laser over that same catching glove in overtime of Game 4, giving the Rangers a 3-2 victory and 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
It was the fourth career overtime playoff goal for St. Louis.
"I've jumped on him a couple times in overtime," said Brad Richards, a teammate of St. Louis' with the Tampa Bay Lightning during a run to the Cup in 2004. "It never gets old."
Martin St. Louis gets his 4th career playoff OT goal. Incredibly, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux NEVER scored one.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 26, 2014
When the Rangers advanced to the conference final in 2012 under coach John Tortorella, it was a hard-working team that relied more on grinding opponents into a fine dust to score goals and less on sheer talent and skill to create those goals. There was some skill there, but it seemed that nearly every goal required a pint of blood.
No one epitomized those gritty teams like captain Ryan Callahan, a fine player capable of scoring 20 goals, but someone who was the embodiment of the notion that hard work was far more present than inherent talent in New York.
Goals rarely came easy for Callahan.
The Rangers felt they were a player away from being a true contender, hence the hefty price to acquire St. Louis at the deadline.
"It's just, sometimes you want…I don't want to say an easy goal, but you'll get some goals that you don't have to manufacture," Richards said. "When you have players of that caliber, they don't need a lot of time, they don't need a lot of room. You get one or two of those chances, there's a good chance he's going to get one.
"I don't know if that's what we were missing, but it's sure nice to have."
Not to pick on Dustin, who played has played well, but this shows area where VHS is optimal. Circle was puck release. pic.twitter.com/aNFOC8iwf5— Arik Parnass (@ArikParnass) May 26, 2014
In adding St. Louis, not only did the Rangers bolster their skill, but they lost nothing in the leadership department.
No offense to Callahan, but they may have gained in that area, too.
Following the Rangers' 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of their second-round series that left them in a 3-1 hole, the team had a brief meeting in the locker room. Richards spoke, St. Louis spoke and others spoke about how a 3-1 series hole wasn't the end of the world, and St. Louis recalled times from his career when his teams rallied from seemingly insurmountable deficits.
The narrative of the team being galvanized in the wake of the death of St. Louis' mother, France, one day after that Game 4 loss is well-known at this point. It without a doubt had a transformative effect on the team and played a role in the Rangers coming from behind to beat the Penguins and propelled them to a 2-0 series against the Canadiens.
But what St. Louis has done on the ice has been the real difference.
Including his winner Sunday, St. Louis has four goals and seven points since tragedy struck, which serves as both a testament to the man's skill and his ability to work through the adversity that came with unexpected death of his mother.
"He's been great for us since he got here," said Carl Hagelin, who had a shorthanded goal and the primary assist on St. Louis' winner. "He shows a lot of tenacity and emotion every time he steps on the ice. He is very easy to play with and he's a great teammate."
St. Louis has been in New York for three months, but during the six weeks of this playoff run, he's made it seem as though he's been here forever.
Who did they trade for him? Brian Callahan? Was a he a forward or a defenseman? Lefty or righty? Oh, Ryan Callahan, that's right. He was the captain or something.
These playoffs have had the highest of highs and lowest of lows for St. Louis, both personally and professionally.
Now the Rangers are on the other end of a 3-1 series lead and will look to put the Canadiens away at Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
The situation is not lost on St. Louis.
"It's a big difference, up 3-1 instead of 2-2 going back up to Montreal," St. Louis said. "We were well aware of the opportunity we had with these two games at home. We were obviously disappointed with the result last game, but we thought we played a good game.
"It's just hockey."
It's just hockey. With that relaxed attitude prevailing in the Rangers' locker room, it's only a matter of time before they close out this series.
All statistics via NHL.com.
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