Martin St. Louis made his Rangers debut mere hours after being acquired in a trade deadline day deal with Tampa Bay, and he and his new teammates did force overtime before falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, on Tyler Bozak's second goal of the game 1:51 into OT.
Skating on a line with former Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Brad Richards and speedy winger Carl Hagelin, St. Louis set up one scoring opportunity for Richards and then hammered a hard shot on goal--all on his first shift wearing the Blueshirt. The NHL's leading scorer a year ago who is also ranked eighth this season, St. Louis was held off the scoresheet in his Rangers debut. St. Louis logged 20 minutes 11 seconds of ice-time and recorded three shots on goal.
"Obviously a lot of emotions today," St. Louis told reporters after the game. "I was blessed to play in one place for 14 years, and I'll cherish those years. I have nothing but great memories and the fans there have always been awesome to me, and I kind of grew up there, so to speak. This is an opportunity for me to play on a big-market team, and it's going to be a challenge for me, but I love challenges. New York is a place I wanted to play."
Playing Wednesday night capped an emotional day and closed an emotional chapter on St. Louis' career while opening a new one in New York. The former captain of the Lightning requested a trade out of Tampa--"mainly for family reasons" he said--and late Wednesday morning his wish to be dealt to New York was granted when the Rangers agreed to send Ryan Callahan and two draft picks the other way in a true blockbuster.
Soon after the deal was consummated, St. Louis was on a jet heading to New York, and he arrived at Madison Square Garden with time to spare before Wednesday's game. He took his first shift as a Ranger less than one minute into the contest.
"This is a great building to play in," St. Louis said of The Garden. "Obviously I'm old enough to have seen the Rangers win in '94, and I know what winning brings being here. This is what I am playing for. I am excited about it."
It was an emotional day for the Rangers, as well, seeing their captain traded away. It was also a day of mixed emotions for the Blueshirt players who said their goodbyes to a great friend and teammate in Callahan, but who were excited about the prospect of having one of the truly elite players in the NHL now on their team.
"It's shocking," alternate captain Marc Staal said after the game. "Any time a teammate for a long time, a friend, your captain, gets traded it's going to be a little bit of a shock to everyone, but that's the way hockey goes. And we get a great player here. Obviously (St. Louis') career speaks for itself. I have a lot of respect for him, and he's a good leader, and we welcome him. He's going to be a huge help to us."
As for the game, trailing 2-0 early in the third the Rangers erupted for a pair of shorthanded goals on the same Maple Leafs power play to pull even, 2-2, by the 6:53 mark of the period. Dominic Moore had a hand in each of the goals as The Garden came alive with a thunderous ovation.
Ryan McDonagh scored the first goal--at 5:34--with Brad Richards in the penalty box for tripping. After solid work down low by Brian Boyle and Moore, the puck came to McDonagh who fired a shot wide of the Toronto cage. However the Rangers caught a big break when the puck struck Dion Phaneuf's skate and bounced into the net. The goal was McDonagh's second shortie of the season, and career-high tenth overall this year.
After assisting on McDonagh's goal, Moore netted one of his own 79 seconds later. Moore intercepted a Phil Kessel pass in the Rangers end of the ice then head-manned a long pass to Derek Stepan on right wing. The pair took off on a 2-on-1 rush that culminated in Moore burying his fifth goal past Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier, tying the game with New York's second shorthanded goal of the night and fifth this year.
That score held up after the Rangers killed off another Maple Leafs power play at 12:47 and with a huge stick save by Henrik Lundqvist on a wide-open Nikolai Kulemin with four minutes left in regulation. The score also remained tied after Hagelin just missed off the side of the net after a partial breakaway with three minutes to play in the period, and when McDonagh's shot trickled through Bernier's pads moments later only to see the puck swept away from the goal line by Toronto's Carl Gunnarsson.
In overtime Bozak was left alone in front of the Rangers' net, and he buried Kessel's blind pass from behind the cage at the 1:51 mark. This was Toronto's 20th overtime game already this season, and they now own a 12-8 OT record. The loss was the Rangers third in a row--they are 0-2-1--though they did earn a point in the standings, their 70th this season, to remain in third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I think at this stage of the game moral victories or moral points mean nothing," stated McDonagh, who played just under 30 minutes Wednesday. "You've got to get two points. We're in a tight race and these guys are right there with us, so we've got to continue to try and play 60 minute hockey, the only thing that's going to get us into the playoffs."
Bozak opened the scoring by beating Lundqvist on a penalty shot 1:44 into the second period. After a failed Rangers power play, Bozak took off on a partial breakaway early in the second, and as he neared Lundqvist he was hooked off the puck by a desperate John Moore. A penalty shot was awarded, and Bozak made the Rangers pay by beating Lundqvist between the pads for his 13th goal of the season--and first-ever career penalty shot goal.
Nearly six minutes later the Maple Leafs thought they had taken a 2-0 lead when Jake Gardiner beat Lundqvist short side from the left circle. Though the ringing of iron filled The Garden air, the red light went on and the on-ice officials signaled for a goal. However after video review the call was overturned when it was clear that Gardiner's shot hit the near post and then ricocheted off the far post, as well.
Lundqvist was fortunate then, but he was flat-out brilliant later in the period when he made two fantastic saves to keep the Rangers deficit at 1-0. First he showed an extremely quick glove to flag down Nazem Kadri's rising left wing blast that was ticketed to the upper far corner of the goal. Then with a minute to play in the period Lundqvist made a pad save on an in-tight Joffrey Lupul shot, then lunged with his right pad to make a remarkable save on Lupul's rebound putback.
Bernier was solid at the other end of the ice, too, and like Lundqvist had a bit of luck when Richards hammered a power play slap shot off the left post shortly before Bozak's goal.
Kadri scored on a slam dunk two minutes into the third period to double the visitors' advantage. Anton Stralman lost the puck behind his own net and Kulemin worked the puck quickly to Kadri who was all alone in front, and Kadri easily scored his 16th goal of the season.
Undeterred the Rangers came right back minutes later with their pair of shorthanded goals to tie the score before eventually succumbing in overtime.
Lundqvist finished with 26 saves, while Bernier made 35.
The Rangers will travel to Carolina Thursday and will then face off with the Hurricanes on Friday night in their next game.