MONTREAL – The New York Rangers took a commanding 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final with a 3-1 over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 on Monday at the Bell Centre.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stood tall with 41 saves between the pipes, but it was defenceman Ryan McDonagh who got the first star of the game as he had a goal and an assist and now has two goals and four assists for six points in two games.
With a big series lead and a chance of wrapping up the series back at Madison Square Garden, the young blueliner was surprisingly low-key considering his performance in Games 1 and 2.
"Just everybody else around me," he answered when asked what the key to his recent offensive success has been. "You can't have that success without your teammates doing what they need to do and getting you the puck in certain situations.
"It was great fore-checking on my goal and simple play by 'Dom' [Domenic Moore] to find me. You play like that and good things will happen. It was great passing by 'Richie' [Brad Richards] on the power play and then just simple plays by everyone. Everybody's really contributing and it's showing on the scoreboard."
McDonagh now has nine points in 16 games in the playoffs, but six of those have come in the last two.
"I was just trying to be a little bit simpler out of my zone," said McDonagh, who - as Montreal fans know all too well now - was drafted 12th overall by the Canadiens at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
"If I have a second or two to make a direct pass, make it. But I was just looking for stick blades too much at times and it's tight checking in the playoffs so you want to make sure that you're not giving forwards an opportunity to grind you in your own zone. So the simple plays will work a lot in the playoffs and I've been able to make good reads and that's helped me."
McDonagh's teammates have noticed the changes as well and are happy the hard work is paying off for their teammate.
"The last bunch of games he's been getting better and better," said blueliner Marc Staal. "Obviously, we need that offence from the back end and he's really providing it right now. But it's also the little things he's doing.
"He works so hard on his defensive game and is so hard on his stick out there. Her's smart in his own zone and that cause us to have a lot of offense from it and obviously on the powerplay that's huge too. That hard work is paying off."
Head coach Alain Vigneault echoed Staal's assessment and credited McDonagh's defensive game - which in turn has led to more offence.
"Both go hand in hand," he explained. "Like when Ryan's gap is good and, obviously, he's got tough matchups because he's always playing against the other team's best line.
"When his gap is good and he's battling hard in his one-on-ones, usually the offensive part of his game is there, and it's been very good the last two games."
James Murphy is a freelance reporter who also writes for NHL.com, the Boston Herald and XNsports.com. He covered the Boston Bruins/NHL for last 11 seasons writing for ESPNBoston.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com, NESN.com, the Boston Metro, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also currently hosts the radio show "Murphy's Hockey Law" heard Saturdays 9-11 AM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio and 4-6 PM ET on Websportsmedia.com. In addition to that, he is a regular guest TSN 690 in Montreal and Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio as well as a hockey analyst on CTV Montreal.