New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh hasn’t just been good against the Montreal Canadiens, he’s provided much-needed aggression.
When looking across the landscape of the major professional sports postseasons, there’s one system that simply doesn’t fit with the others. It’s not because it’s less thrilling or comes with cautious reminders that it’s actually ongoing. It’s because once a team is in, a team has a shot at the grand prize, despite seeding.
The postseason in question is the National Hockey League’s playoff system and the grand prize is the coveted Stanley Cup.
Unlike the NFL, MLB and especially NBA, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a complete crapshoot. From the top team in the land to the club who managed to squeeze in by the hair of its chinny-chin-chin, they all have a legitimate shot.
Why? Well, because the game plays out unlike anything we witness during the 82-game regular season schedule.
At times, it’s absurd. The casual onlooker doesn’t know if he or she is watching ice hockey or a brand-spanking new sport that somebody created. Thanks to the officiating techniques, or lack thereof, the game becomes a mix of ice hockey and rugby, erasing talent and skill while adding grit and the latest dirty tricks.
Obviously, hockey talent is still relevant. I mean, no club can throw out 18 Joey Kocurs and check off 16 postseason wins en route to 34.5 pounds of ecstasy.
But make no mistake about it, an added touch of grit, determination and that perfect blend of peskiness and dirtiness is needed to hoist the cup.
Those who’ve witnessed the five games played in the first round series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens over the last week and a half wholeheartedly understand this playoff concept. Not only are the officials in this series swallowing the whistle, it seems as though somebody hijacked all four eyeballs prior to first puck drop. Knowing this would be the case, the Rangers needed that little extra piece of nasty that would show face.
Enter Ryan McDonagh.
The captain, the 27-year-old NHL All-Star defenseman has added that aggressive snarl to his game and fans couldn’t be more joyous.
Those who witnessed the 1994 run remember a certain captain with attitude, one who would literally slash a man across the wrist while fully understanding the situation. Mark Messier didn’t just lead the offensive attack for New York, he understood playoff hockey. He knew the ins and the outs of the game come spring time. He fully realized what he could and couldn’t get away with on the ice and when it was time to take a certain dirty liberty with the opposition, he pounced.
Listen, this is just what playoff hockey is. Thanks in part to the nature of the sport that sees the officials never wanting to be the difference of a game or reason one team gains a man-advantage over the other, aggression and championships have always gone hand in hand.
New York’s captain in ’94 always understood that. It now seems as though the Rangers captain today has grasped that notion.
These five games have showcased an angrier Ryan McDonagh, a guy who isn’t backing down from any challenge or dirty technique thrown his way.
Will McDonagh ever morph into the dirty technician Messier was? Probably not. Some question a few of the hits-from-behind he’s executed through his years in the league, but for the most part, he’s been on the other end of dirty plays causing him to find his way to the injury report.
As far as pure aggression is concerned, McDonagh has appropriately raised his game to a new level nobody has laid eyes on prior. In fact, he’s been tremendous in every aspect.
From the outset of game one, it was clear what the Montreal Canadiens mission was. Claude Julien had his troops ready for battle. Instead of a hockey game filled with skill, the Brendan Gallaghers and Andrew Shaws of the world have looked to muddy the waters at every turn.
No. 27 has matched this intensity, and it’s a gift from the hockey gods for this team because they have very little aggression from one through 18. Mats Zuccarello is an excellent pest. He does wonders in that area. J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider will, at times, throw the body around. Dan Girardi, who’s been reborn in this series, will also make his presence felt as well.
But it starts and ends with McDonagh.
If the captain can not only lead the rush and look to take on a little more transitional Brian Leetch magic at times, but continue to win the aggression battle, these New York Rangers may just have a little something going for them.
It’s taken awhile, but the Mac Truck is finally taking shape:
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) April 20, 2017
The only chance the Rangers have of hoisting Lord’s Stanley Cup in a month and a half is if Ryan McDonagh continues to lead the way in the aggression and questionable acts department.
Like Messier, all hockey captains understand this is a necessary act during hockey in the spring.