Martin St. Louis knew that the best he could possibly do was just keep going. "I think it was emotional the other day," he said, reflecting on the Rangers' victory Friday night, "but you've got to play this game with emotion." And with him in the lineup, there was going to be no shortage of that Sunday night.
There had been no doubt about what was going to be in the forward's heart in Game 6 against the Penguins on Mother's Day, only three days after he received the awful call telling him that his mother, France, had died. "I know she helped me through this," he said after the Rangers won, 3-1, to force Game 7.
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But it went way beyond him. His entire team still was filled with compassion and passion Sunday night, and so was Madison Square Garden.
For the first time this postseason, the place rocked with energy and electricity. Feelings ran deep for St. Louis, who had gone home to Montreal after playing Friday, picked up his father, Normand, and sister Isabelle and brought them back to New York for the game. They will go home with an indelible memory, and a puck.
Shortly after the fans sang "Mar-tee!" in tribute during his first shift, he stood near the crease and deflected in the first goal. First goals have been huge in these Stanley Cup playoffs; in the second round, whatever team has scored it has won. This one just seemed bigger because of who scored it. As teammate Derek Stepan said, "It's probably one of the cooler things I've been a part of in my professional career."
St. Louis attributed it to being in the right place at the right time -- "But you have to work for your bounces," he said -- and, while the crowd was roaring with a standing ovation, he swooped in and grabbed the puck. "I'll give it to my dad," he said. "It's got significance for everybody who has been so supportive."
The night was extraordinary, a hockey game for a hockey family that needed something to hold on to. Before the game, St. Louis said that being here with his father and sister helped the grieving process. Afterward, he said: "They deserve a lot of credit for where I've been, where I've gone, where I am today. I couldn't be happier for them to be here on a special day throughout a pretty tough time."
Even before this, the Rangers believed there was something special about St. Louis, acquired March 5 in a trade for team captain Ryan Callahan. Ryan McDonagh said, "He comes into the locker room every day like he's a new guy in the NHL, ready to work hard and improve."
Marc Staal said, "He's just an easy guy to like, an easy guy to be around."
For St. Louis, it was only another very good moment in a very bad week. On his way off the ice, he tapped his chest, as if to share what was inside.
"They've really been playing their hearts out," he said. "That's what you need to keep going this time of year."