During the 2017-18 season, the New York Rangers traded their captain and franchise cornerstone, Ryan McDonagh, to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has become a staple on their blue line and for the second consecutive year he has stepped up in the postseason.
McDonagh’s Rise with the Rangers
From McDonagh’s rookie season in 2010-11 to his final season with the Rangers in 2017-18, he was a shutdown defenseman. His play was steady and he was willing to do whatever it took to help the Blueshirts.
McDonagh consistently finished among the NHL’s leaders in blocked shots and was a physical presence for New York. His excellent skating ability allowed him to be aggressive in the offensive zone, while still possessing the speed to get back defensively.
During his time with the Rangers, McDonagh also improved offensively and finished with 14 goals and 29 assists during the 2013-14 season. Despite suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out of the final five games of the regular season, he was fantastic in the postseason. He finished with 4 goals and 13 assists in 25 games and led New York in ice time per game at 26:49, as he led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
McDonagh frequently stepped up for the Rangers in the playoffs. In the second round of the playoffs in 2015, he scored an overtime goal in Game 5 against the Washington Capitals with the Blueshirts facing elimination. They would go on to come back and win the series in seven games.
The Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference Final three times and the Stanley Cup Final once during McDonagh’s time in New York. New York’s record was 14-4 in elimination games during the 2012 through 2015 postseasons. In those 18 games, star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist allowed just 31 goals. Lundqvist was fantastic but McDonagh also deserves credit, as he was the Rangers’ best defenseman during that stretch.
McDonagh’s Play in the Postseason with the Lightning
When the Lighting acquired McDonagh, they had an excellent team, but hoped he could push them over the top and help them win the Stanley Cup. He joined a strong core of defensemen which included Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. Erik Cernak, whose rookie season was 2018-19, has also developed into a very good defenseman. During the 2017-18 season, McDonagh played well in the postseason but Tampa Bay was outplayed and eliminated by the Capitals in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning finished with the best record in the NHL during the 2018-19 season and entered with expectations of winning the Cup but the postseason was a disaster for them. Hedman suffered an injury and missed Game 3 and Game 4 of the opening round. Nikita Kucherov, who led the NHL in points during the regular season, got suspended for one game for boarding. McDonagh also struggled in the series. He was held without any points and was a minus-six as the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning.
McDonagh and the Lightning bounced back during the 2020 postseason in a big way. In Game 1 of the first round, they won a dramatic five-overtime game against the Blue Jackets with Brayden Point scoring the game-winner. McDonagh played a great game, repeatedly breaking up scoring chances and also picking up an assist. He never seemed to tire despite logging 53:06.
Throughout the 2020 postseason, McDonagh proved to be a reliable force on the blue line and he often found himself matching up against the top forwards on opposing teams. Because of the offensive skill of Hedman and Sergachev, Tampa Bay did not rely on McDonagh for offense but he excelled in defensive situations, including on the penalty kill. Tampa Bay had a penalty kill percentage of 86.1 and he was a driving force behind that success. He cleared opponents from the front of the net, won battles for possession, and made intelligent plays with the puck.
Last year, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup without ever facing an elimination game and the excellent play of their defensemen, including McDonagh, was one of the main reasons for that success. He finished the postseason with one goal and four assists in 22 playoff games but the stats don’t do justice to how well he played.
This postseason has been more of the same for McDonagh. His defense pairing with Erik Cernak has arguably been Tampa Bay’s best, as they have repeatedly matched up with and shut down the top forwards of opposing teams.
McDonagh has once again played very well on the penalty kill and he stepped up when Tampa Bay needed him most. In Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinal against the New York Islanders, he came up big on the penalty kill. He blocked two shots and later in the shift made a pass out of the defensive zone leading to a shorthanded goal by Yanni Gourde. That would be the only goal of the game as McDonagh blocked five shots to help the Lightning hold onto the lead.
In the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens, McDonagh assisted on the game-winning goal in Game 2. He is plus-six in the series. In 21 playoff games, he has six assists and is a plus-17, which is the best plus/minus in the NHL.
For the Rangers
For Ranger fans, McDonagh’s excellent play with Tampa Bay is no surprise, and he has certainly been missed on New York’s young blue line over the past few years. New York traded McDonagh and J.T. Miller in exchange for a first-round pick, a second-round pick, Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden and Libor Hajek. None of those three players that New York acquired has made a big impact on the Rangers, while McDonagh has been great with Tampa Bay and Miller has gone on to do a great job with the Vancouver Canucks (after the Lightning traded him in exchange for a first-round pick). One positive for Rangers fans is McDonagh has helped Tampa Bay eliminate the rival New York Islanders in each of the last two postseasons.
The Rangers also may be getting help on their blue line next season from Nils Lundkvist. The Swedish defenseman was drafted by the Blueshirts in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft with a pick acquired from Tampa Bay in the McDonagh trade. This season, Lundkvist won the Salming Trophy, which goes to the Swedish Hockey League’s best Swedish-born defenseman, so he certainly has potential.
As for McDonagh, he is one win away from winning the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year. He gave everything he had to the Blueshirts while he was in New York and it was heartbreaking to see the Rangers come up just short a few times. He has had some painful losses in the postseason which makes the success he has had over the past two postseasons even sweeter.
The Rangers did a great job developing McDonagh and now they will look to do the same with their talented young defensemen including K’Andre Miller, Ryan Lindgren and Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. These young defensemen, along with prospects inducing Lundkvist, Zac Jones, Braden Schneider and Matthew Robertson should provide New York with a tremendous core of young blueliners which bodes very well for the future of the Rangers.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.