Ryan McDonagh’s Playoff Experience Has Prepared Him for Success

When the New York Rangers decided to rebuild two years ago, they traded Ryan McDonagh, their captain and best player at the time, to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa was expected to compete for the Cup immediately, and while it has taken a few years to get there, the Lightning and McDonagh will now have their shot at winning it, and Ryan’s postseason experience has prepared him for this opportunity.

McDonagh’s Rise and Postseason Experience With the Rangers

The Rangers acquired McDonagh in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens in 2009 and he made his NHL debut during the 2010-11 season. He showed off his elite skating as well as his ability to shut down opposing stars. He steadily improved in each of his first few seasons until he became a star. As he improved, so did the Blueshirts, which allowed him to get plenty of experience in the playoffs.

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Early in his career, the Rangers relied on McDonagh as a shutdown defensive defenseman and he excelled in that role. While his strong play didn’t always show up in the stat sheet, he did his job and helped New York make a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2012. He had no goals and four assists in 20 games that postseason but averaged 26:49 in time on ice per game despite not playing on the power play.

Ryan McDonagh injury
Ryan McDonagh was the Rangers’ top defenseman. Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Over the next few seasons, McDonagh developed into a star for the Rangers as he improved his offensive play to match his stellar defensive play. He finished with 8 goals and 22 assists in 56 games combined in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 postseasons.

In 2014, McDonagh led the Rangers on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final despite playing with a separated shoulder. The Blueshirts trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in their second-round series when he helped spark a comeback by scoring a goal and adding an assist in Game 5. New York won the series in seven games and McDonagh dominated the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. He finished the series with two goals and eight assists, and the Rangers won in six games before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.

The following postseason, McDonagh played through another injury without missing any games. This time it was a broken foot. He also helped spark an improbable New York comeback for the second consecutive season.

Once again the Rangers trailed 3-1 in the second round of the postseason, this time against the Washington Capitals. Game 5 went to overtime, and he delivered a clutch game-winning goal. The Blueshirts won Game 6 and trailed in Game 7, but McDonagh assisted on the game-tying goal before Derek Stepan scored the series-winning goal in overtime. However, New York fell to Tampa Bay in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers made the playoffs in each of McDonagh’s first seven seasons with them. In 96 postseason games with New York, he had 10 goals, 31 assists, 223 blocked shots and 219 hits. He was an excellent postseason player with the Blueshirts, but never won the Stanley Cup.

McDonagh’s Postseasons With the Lightning

After McDonagh was traded to the Lightning, he got less power-play time because of the play of Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev but he has continued to play well defensively for the team while still contributing offensively.

Tampa Bay has made the playoffs in each of McDonagh’s three seasons with them. In 2018 he had no goals and five assists in 17 games, and the Capitals eliminated the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final. They were shut out in Games 6 and 7.

McDonagh suffered the most shocking postseason loss of his career last season. Tampa Bay finished with the best record in the NHL in the regular season, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The gritty blueliner was held without a point.

While he didn’t get the results he wanted in his first two seasons with the Lightning, he played well against opposing teams’ best offensive players and excelled on the penalty kill.

Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan McDonagh is a key defenseman for the Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This postseason, McDonagh has continued to play well defensively and Tampa Bay has gotten better results. He has also made a few key plays offensively. He scored his first postseason goal with the Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Islanders and it turned out to be the game-winner. He also made a brilliant cross-ice pass in Game 2 with the score tied and time running out in regulation. Nikita Kucherov finished off the play with the game-winning goal. They went on to win the series in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Moving Forward

McDonagh now has his second chance to play for the Cup and he has a lot more experience than he did in 2014 with the Rangers. He has done just about everything in the postseason except win the Cup, but he can change that now.

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This postseason, McDonagh has one goal and four assists in 17 games and has been a steady defensive presence for Tampa Bay. In Game 1, he broke up two potential breakaway opportunities for the Dallas Stars. He certainly won’t be afraid of the big stage and he will have to play well for the Lightning to win the series. Tampa Bay will count on him to match up with the Stars’ top scorers this series. He will also be tasked with stopping their dangerous power play.

McDonagh likely won’t score much this series but his experience and steady defensive play will be crucial in order for them to win the Cup.

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