On Saturday afternoon the Rangers went out and thrashed the Montreal Canadiens 7-2 at the Bell Centre, winning Game One of the Eastern Conference Final, their fourth consecutive playoff victory since the passing of Martin St. Louis' mother, France. Less than 24 hours later the entire Rangers family attended Mrs. St. Louis' funeral in Montreal on Sunday, a day called "very emotional, very moving..and challenging" by head coach Alain Vigneault.
"What I can say is that the New York Rangers family has been touched by a little Quebec family in a deep, profound way," stated Vigneault Sunday afternoon at the Bell Centre where he spoke with reporters following the services. "Today was a very emotional, very moving time for for our team to have the opportunity to be there and share that with Marty and his family."
According to Vigneault, St. Louis spoke at his mother's funeral and delivered a very powerful message.
"After hearing him speak, I don't know how he did it," offered the Rangers head coach. "He's a much better man than me to do something like that. But what I think what he is doing, and his family...and everybody's that close to him, I think what they're doing is moving on through our team. The fact that we're still playing is enabling them to cope and handle this challenging situation."
Vigneault and his players have spoken often of how the passing of Marty's mother has galvanized the group, and how it provided an emotional bond within the team as New York rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to oust Pittsburgh in Round Two and then skate to a convincing win on Saturday in St. Louis' native province of Quebec. St. Louis himself has responded with two goals and two assists in the four games since his mother's death.
However the coach and his players are also being very careful to make sure they do not trivialize the loss of France St. Louis by over-emphasizing what it has meant to the group from a hockey point of view.
"I think the big thing is it was the timing of it probably leads to a great story, and we want it to be a great story," said alternate captain Brad Richards, who was among five players made available to the media along with Vigneault on Sunday. "We're not trying to hide that. So I think it made us get closer to him , and he really feels like he's a Ranger now with what he went through and everybody behind him."
The entire Rangers organization supported Marty and his family at Sunday's funeral in Montreal, and many of his former Tampa Bay Lightning teammates--including Steven Stamkos--reportedly were present, as well. It was yet another emotional day for the popular star forward and his Ranger teammates who now must regroup again and move on to Game Two against the Canadiens on Monday evening.
"It was good for us to be there for him, so today was a lot less about hockey and a lot more about being there for (Marty) and his family," shared defenseman Marc Staal. "Marty's been great through everything. He certainly has done a great job of coming into our room and still being that positive influence and energetic guy. I don't think that's on anybody's mind, how we are going to react. We'll be ready to play (Monday)."
Added Dan Girardi, "No matter what goes on around us we have to be ready for the game. Obviously today attending the service is something we wanted to do, to support Marty and his family. Now we have to move on to tomorrow night's game and be ready for it."
St. Louis scored a goal and added an assist in Saturday's victory. He had not practiced the previous two days, instead spending time with his father, sister, and extended family in Montreal. His mother's wake, attended by many Ranger players, was also held on Friday.
"The best thing about Marty is that he doesn't show (his grief) to us, he shows up to the rink focused..because this is very important to him," shared defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "To see him show up with that mentality, that focus, that preparation drives you as a player to make sure you are doing the same things."
The Rangers did not practice on Sunday, and Vigneault said that the club will regroup Monday morning with a complete team practice at the morning skate, and will go over game-planning complete with video sessions at the Bell Centre in the morning.