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McDonagh will be major key versus hard-charging Kings

Jun 3, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Two Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Ryan McDonagh doesn’t know if he’s graduated to the level of “elite” NHL defenseman — he’ll leave that to the fans and media to debate — but there’s no question he’ll be a major key for the underdog New York Rangers as they try to upset the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

In fact, after goalie Henrik Lundqvist, McDonagh might be New York’s most important player. After all, besides Lundqvist, no Ranger is on the ice as much as the star blue-liner, who’s averaging over 25 minutes a game in these playoffs. No forward on the team has averaged more than 19 minutes.

“I’ve got a lot more responsibility this year, and with that you’re expected to perform,” McDonagh said Tuesday. “I’ve liked having more responsibility, more pressure, being put in situations, power play, penalty killing, where you’ve got to make plays. It could be a difference in a win or a loss.”

The 24-year-old had a bit of tough start to the postseason, but his performance against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final — with 10 points in six games — drew high praise from his coach, Alain Vigneault.

Vigneault, of course, has played a major role in McDonagh’s emergence, allowing the talented blue-liner the freedom to leverage his talent and make plays at both ends of the ice.

“He really trusts everybody to play to their strengths, and tries to put you in situations where your strengths can happen,” McDonagh said.

Not that McDonagh had particularly bad things to say about Vigneault’s predecessor, John Tortorella.

“He set a great example for me about what it takes mentally, getting over mistakes and trying to prepare every day in practice,” said McDonagh. “But for us, we thought we could get to another level, and I think A.V. has brought that for us.”

As for the Kings, McDonagh knows what kind of challenge the Rangers’ opponents will present starting Wednesday at Staples Center.

“They’re a big, physical team,” said McDonagh, who managed to catch the last two games of the Western Conference Final on TV, after the Rangers had taken care of the Canadiens.

“They’ve got a lot of size and speed. So we’ve got to make sure that we break their forecheck and not spend a lot of time in our zone. They’ve got some guys that are going to get in hard on the forecheck. We’ve got to utilize our communication and our puck-moving skills to try to get out of our zone clean.”

And for the people who believe the Rangers are in over their heads versus the powerful Western Conference champs?

“We try not to focus too much on what’s being said outside the locker room,” said McDonagh, “We understand what our strength is. We really believe in each other on the ice, and that’s all we care about. We’ve got great leadership in our group, great coaching staff that works really hard to put a plan on the board, so we can execute on the ice.”

  1. afce22 - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    The Kings deserve to be favorites (doesn’t mean they’ll win), but if there’s one area for them that is overhyped it’s the “Drew Doughty is the best player in the playoffs” angle we keep hearing. Guys like McDonagh and Keith are right there.

    Overall defense is advantage Rangers. The question is whether the forwards can pressure the Kings enough to wear them down because otherwise the Kings have too much firepower

  2. tronn25 - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    McDonagh had a great series against the Carey Price-less Habs, but didn’t he entirely forget to show up for the first two series’?

    I believe he had 3 points in the first two series combined….

    • barkar942 - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:01 PM

      Perhaps this hit might have something to do with his less than stellar start to the playoffs.

  3. nysportsrule - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    It’s not exactly that he forgot to show up. He was injured with a couple games left in the season and came back for game one against Philly. Everyone could see that he wasn’t fully healed, which I think caused his sloppy play.

  4. rupp246 - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    Bottom line is how well lundqvist plays for the rangers and he will play the best he has ever played! Rangers in 6.

  5. nashernation - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    I love being the underdogs in this series..time for the Rangers to show the hockey world it’s our time.. Let’s go Rangers!!! The King is in beast mode..

  6. homerx - Jun 3, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    McDonagh was injured going into the playoffs and has progressively gotten better. He is a GREAT shut down defenseman, just watch him play in the finals. His stick checking is second to none. He is not a bruiser or a goal scorer.

    • afce22 - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:08 AM

      Yet he had more goals and assists than Doughty this year.

  7. paulerhythm - Jun 3, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    McDonagh will need to be big in this series. I can’t wait to see if he’s up for the challenge!

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