A lot has been made of the impact the death of Martin St. Louis’ mother as well as the return of Chris Kreider have had on the Rangers resurgence. Deservedly so.
However, the event Ranger players point to as the turning point this postseason was the players-only meeting held after the Game 4 beating they took at the hands of the Penguins to fall behind in the series 3-1.
During that closed door session, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Henrik Lundqvist addressed the team about believing in themselves individually and as a team (via New York Post)…
“That’s something that’s impressive with our group, that we have the leadership, the guys that have been through a lot in their career, playoff runs, Stanley Cups,’’ Brian Boyle said. “It wasn’t the best situation to be in by any means, but we stuck together. I’ve been down 3-1 before, but this was a different feeling being down 3-1.
“There was a lot of disgust with how we played. I’ve never seen a team that was so upset the next day about one game. That wasn’t the team that we thought we were. We were angry at ourselves, and we knew we had more.’’
With the Rangers void of a captain since Ryan Callahan was moved to Tampa for St. Louis, they’ve used a leadership by committee approach which has obviously produced positive results (via New York Times)…
“I don’t believe on any team you need guys to have letters to lead,” Coach Alain Vigneault said. “Leading is the ability to influence people to do the right thing. If you have that influence and you have that ability, you don’t need to have a C or an A on your sweater.”
The team’s de facto captain Richards adds…
“It just works. I don’t know how to explain it. We just make sure that things get done. I don’t think it’s any different than if you did or didn’t have a captain, especially this time of the year. If something needs to be said and someone thinks they need to say it, then you help out the best you can that way.”
Richards along with his former Lightning teammate St. Louis bring Stanley Cup pedigree which the younger players have relied on to get them through difficult times this postseason…
“Richie’s been great preparing us from game to game, and now Marty coming in — he’s been great, too,” Marc Staal said.
And it’s not just the players leaning on Richards…
AV on Brad Richards: “He’s been a really strong role model since Day 1 since I’ve been here. I’ve really leaned on him and his experience.”
— Sean Hartnett (@HartnettHockey) May 21, 2014
…listen, teams in every professional sport have player-only meetings seemingly every other day, most of which fail to inspire, so I don’t want to put too much stock in this one pow-wow. However, from Boyle’s comments it sounds as if the core of the team might have been more disgusted with the Game 4 performance than the fans and felt it needed to be addressed. Here’s where having guys who’ve “been there” comes in so handy. The leadership core could have easily folded its tent and played out the string the way so many teams down 3-1 have done in the past, but they wouldn’t allow this group to give up. They knew the 2013-14 Rangers were capable of so much more. So, while the tragedy gave the team a huge emotional lift that they’ve exploited to make this run, it was the players-only meeting which planted the seed that a magical run was a possibility.
…i also don’t think that the closeness of this year’s team has gotten enough praise. The bond of the 2011-12 squad has been well chronicled, but this group has been through the ringer between the early season road trip, losing its captain and dealing with a 3-1 postseason deficit. And each time they rallied together. That kind of adversity could have easily destroyed a team with less of an alliance, but instead they choose to use it to bring the locker room closer every time. Without the affinity these guys have for one another, I don’t think any of this is possible. I also hate to say it, but as great of a captain as Callahan was, I’m not so sure he makes this happen.
…and let’s not forget that AV is very hands-off in the locker room, so he’s had very little influence on the relationship building of this team. Back in the fall, when the season was in the toilet, I was just as guilty as anyone of criticizing the Rangers head coach for not being more involved with rallying the troops, but by leaving the room to the players Vigneault has allowed them to created a strong bond which they’ve been able to lean on during the trying times this postseason.