Grief and joy abound in Martin St. Louis' turnaround season
Do you believe in fate?
It's not quite a question up there with Al Michaels' Miracle on Ice call from 34 years ago. But it applies to what's happened to and with Martin St. Louis, who went from a disgruntled Lightning captain and substitute Olympian to a struggling veteran with his new team to a tragic figure to an inspirational leader, all in the space of a few months.
St. Louis was quick to respond in the affirmative when asked that above question. "Absolutely," he said just minutes after the Rangers finished off the Canadiens in Game 6 at the Garden last week. "This was the time. I came here at the right time, you know? There's a reason for everything and I'm glad it's worked out this way."
The truth is, the Rangers wanted St. Louis here long before Glen Sather sent Ryan Callahan and two first-round picks to Tampa Bay on March 5.
John Tortorella made no secret of his desire to get St. Louis in Rangers blue, especially as the 2009-10 season wound down -- another season without playoffs for St. Louis with the Lightning, with just one year remaining on his deal.
On the first day he could sign in the summer of 2010, though, St. Louis recommitted to Tampa Bay for four years. And with Steven Stamkos riding shotgun in Brad Richards' old role, the Lightning went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, losing to the Bruins, 1-0.
"I cried on the ice," St. Louis said, "because I know how hard it is to get there. It's tough to take."
Tortorella helped persuade Sather to add Richards in the summer of 2011. With St. Louis and the Lightning falling back into the lottery, a reunion again seemed possible.
Tortorella was fired, of course. St. Louis had a complete falling out with the Tampa Bay braintrust. Fate kept him away until March 5; once he arrived, a single goal in 19 regular-season games made it seem as though the magical reunion between 2004 Cup champs Richards and St. Louis had come a little too late.
Then came May 8. Hard to believe it's almost a full month ago now. France St. Louis, Martin's mother, died the day before a win-or-go-home Game 5 against the Penguins. While the rest of the Rangers wrestled with how to handle the sad situation of their new teammate, St. Louis seized the moment in a way few of us could ever imagine.
He balanced making funeral plans and consoling his father and sister with playing in each successive elimination game. Not just playing, but throwing it all on the ice for everyone to see and feel.
After the puck bounced off his shin guard and in to open the scoring in Game 6 against the Penguins at the Garden, he let out the sort of roar that would have filled the building even if it were empty.
And on it went. He scored goals in the first two games of the conference finals in Montreal, sandwiched around a funeral across the river in Laval at which, alternately speaking French and English, Martin eulogized his mother and left his new teammates, his new brothers, in awe.
"They don't make 'em like him," one player said, recalling the funeral day. "He's a special person."
During the waning moments of Game 6 on Thursday night, St. Louis was feeling the full force of this past month, this past year. "I was talking to her the whole third period," he said of his mother.
He reveled in the triumph, in finally getting back to a Final a decade after he, Richards and Tortorella won a Stanley Cup. Ten years between trips and now St. Louis is back, after a month and a year no one would wish on anyone.
"Fate's a great thing to talk about," Richards said. "I'd rather talk about it in three weeks, when things are accomplished a bit more . . . It is pinch-yourself type of stuff, but we're also like, 'Let's not talk about that too much.' "
There still is work to be done, perhaps more than St. Louis and the Rangers have worked even to get to this point.
But the question remains.
Do you believe in fate?
Martin St. Louis does. If you do, too, this will be a Final unlike no other.