The NHL playoffs take a harrowing toll on players, but when a Game 7 is looming and the victor gets to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals, injuries and recovery take a back seat.
For the New York Rangers their captain and defenseman Ryan McDonagh missed his second straight practice ahead of Friday night’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden.
McDonagh’s apparent injury hasn’t been disclosed, but could be chalked up to the wear and tear of a grinding series. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters McDonagh’s status for the pivotal game wasn’t in question.
Though he’s notched only nine points during the postseason, McDonagh’s leadership has played a huge role in New York climbing out of a 3-2 series hole in Wednesday’s 7-3 Game 6 victory.
The Rangers blasted the tough Lightning defense with Derick Brassard scoring a hat trick, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist living up to his reputation in elimination games with 36 saves off 39 Tampa Bay shots.
Lundqvuist is eyeing his seventh straight Game 7 victory, having allowed 0.84 goals in the six previous, and most recently silencing the Washington Capitals in the previous round with 35 saves off 36 shots.
Despite the soreness, McDonagh is still fully executing his duties as New York’s leader.
“We’re all talking,” McDonagh said. “We’re all making sure that our emotions are at the right level, that we have that perfect even-keel-ness going into a game. We’re excited and energetic, but at the same time, focused and calm to be able to execute and make plays.”
New York is seeking its first back-to-back trip to the Cup Finals since 1933, when they won the second title in franchise history.
Tampa Bay’s history isn’t nearly as rich as the Rangers, but they are in line for a return to the finals, having last reached the NHL’s biggest stage in 2004 when they won it all.
And the Lightning have already stared down a Game 7 in these playoffs, digging out of their own 3-2 hole with two straight wins over Detroit in the first round.
"We've got that Game 7 experience, which is big," Lighting center and lead scorer Tyler Johnson said to the Tampa Bay Times. "You need to be able to use that, to realize it's just another game. You can't really focus, can't stress about it, that's when bad things happen. We have to realize and think that's a lesson we learned through this postseason, to play our game."
Tampa Bay has also dealt with injuries during the postseason. They lost right wing Ryan Callahan to an appendectomy and he missed Game 6 of the conference semis against Montreal, but he literally gutted it out and hasn’t missed a game against his former team. Center Brian Boyle, also a former Ranger, missed Game 1 of the series with an undisclosed injury.
A third player is also showing some resiliency. Center Cedric Paquette sat out Game 6 with an undisclosed injury but he practiced Thursday and could play in Game 7.
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Live Online: A live stream is available at NBC Sports Live Extra
Betting Odds: Rangers -1.5, over/under 5 goals
Prediction: New York over Tampa Bay, 2-1