By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Maybe Martin St. Louis just needed some time to adjust to the glare of New York City.
St. Louis first donned a New York Rangers sweater less than three months ago and his time in Manhattan has been jam-packed with ups and downs, both on and off the ice.
On Sunday night, under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden, St. Louis put his stamp on another Rangers’ victory and brought his club within one victory of its first Stanley Cup appearance in two decades.
St. Louis scored the overtime winner in Sunday’s Game 4 battle against Montreal, beating Canadiens goaltender Dustin Tokarski with a beautiful wrist shot from just below the right faceoff dot.
The clutch goal gave the Rangers a 3-2 win and swung the Eastern Conference finals firmly in New York’s favor. The Blueshirts are ahead 3-1 in the set thanks to St. Louis’ winner, avoiding a tied series before Tuesday’s Game 5 in Montreal.
The Rangers, and St. Louis in particular, were having a frustrating time trying to get the puck past Tokarski, who has been spectacular, while starting Games 2, 3 and 4 in place of injured No. 1 Carey Price. St. Louis had five shots on the young netminder without a goal in Game 3 — a 3-2 OT win for Montreal — and he scored the winning goal Sunday on his fifth shot of the night.
Late in the second period of Game 4, Tokarski snapped his glove hand to rob St. Louis on a breakaway, but in the extra session the Habs goalie wasn’t quick enough to deny the veteran winger.
St. Louis made sure to bury his last chance on Sunday night. He was all alone in the right circle after receiving the puck from Carl Hagelin and lifted a perfect wrist shot into the upper left corner of the net.
“I just got open,” St. Louis told Pierre McGuire of NBCSports. “I tried to trust my instincts. I tried to go top glove a couple of times — sometimes that’s what you see, you know — and I hit some good shots, he made some good saves. I was fortunate this one got by him.”
The goal was the 81st career playoff point for St. Louis in his 81st game. Not bad for a 38-year-old undrafted, undersized winger who is currently chasing down his second Stanley Cup title.
Since coming over from Tampa Bay in a trade on March 5, St. Louis has been on an emotional roller coaster ride. He struggled fitting into the offense at first, posting just one goal and seven assists in 19 regular-season games with New York following the trade.
Personal tragedy then struck on May 8, when St. Louis’ mother, France, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 63. At the time of her passing, the Rangers were down 3-1 to Pittsburgh in the second round and St. Louis had gone six straight games without a point.
St. Louis also went pointless on May 9, but by playing a day after his mother’s death he managed to be a source of inspiration for his team. New York went on to beat the Penguins 5-1 on that night to begin its comeback, and a few days later St. Louis scored on Mother’s Day to help his team even the series before winning a Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
With his goal against the Habs on Sunday, St. Louis has amassed seven points (4G, 3A) over his last six games. More importantly, he’s become the de facto leader for a team that traded away its captain — Ryan Callahan — to land St. Louis during the season.
By thriving under difficult circumstances, St. Louis has endeared himself not only to Rangers fans hungry to get back to the Cup Finals for the first time since winning it all in 1994. He’s also showed us all how resilient human beings can be when life deals us a tough blow.
Whether St. Louis adds another Stanley Cup title to his career resume or not, the 2014 postseason will forever be linked to the passing of his mother and for that reason, it’s likely to leave behind bittersweet memories for St. Louis and his family.
Through the roughest of times St. Louis somehow has found a way to give a touching tribute to his departed mother, while also adding a new chapter to a career some have already deemed worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.
We’ve learned many things in the 2014 playoffs, but one lesson we should have already known: Never underestimate Martin St. Louis.