McDonagh will be major key versus hard-charging Kings

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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.”

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some said endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: