Ryan McDonagh was wearing a red, white and blue sweater the last time the New York Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final eight years ago. Now with the Blue Shirts squaring off with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, McDonagh is the one trying to prevent his former team from reaching that goal again.
This year’s playoffs have seemed like a reunion of sorts for ex-Rangers trying to best their former club. The Carolina Hurricanes featured a number of former New Yorkers, including Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo and goaltender Antti Raanta.
Now it is McDonagh’s turn. The 32-year-old defenseman has been a key piece for the Lightning this season having played 22:33 through the playoffs entering Wednesday’s Game 1 at Madison Square Garden.
“That’s what it is, two teams that have earned the right to be there,” McDonagh said ahead of Game 1. “I can speak to our group. We’re as hungry and desperate and willing to do whatever it takes at this point to try and keep this journey going here.”
McDonagh spent the first eight years of his career in the Big Apple before he was traded to the Lightning during the 2018 season. He has helped them win back-to-back Stanley Cups and is hoping to win a third straight, which would make another New York hockey fan base a bit nervous.
Even though he is on the other side of the ice now, Chris Kreider is well aware of what he meant to his own development and his impact on any franchise.
“Mac is one of the best humans I’ve ever played with,” Kreider said. “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.”
The Lightning has become well aware of just how invaluable he is to their team since McDonagh’s arrival in Florida four years ago. Tampa has gone through a major transformation into a powerhouse that has become synonymous with success.
McDonagh has been a large part of that.
“I think you know that was the kind of first piece going forward for us, becoming the team that we are today,” Tampa forward Alex Killorn said. “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.”