It's been almost a year since he lost her.

It's been almost a year since Martin St. Louis walked off the Rangers' team plane in Pittsburgh and was told the horrible news that his mother, France, had died of a heart attack at age 63.

Now the Rangers are back in the playoffs and again will be flying to Pittsburgh, this time for Game 3 of their first-round series. And it's hard for the Rangers' alternate captain not to think about his mother, how much he still misses her and how much he owes her as a hockey player and a son.

"Definitely this time of year and being in the playoffs, it reminds me of everything last year," St. Louis, 39, said last week. "And that's OK. I like that it reminds me of her. I like to think about her now. It makes me feel close to her."

The story of St. Louis and his mother has become inextricably linked with the Rangers' improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. With the team down 3-1 to the Penguins in the second-round series, St. Louis made an emotional return for Game 5, playing the day after his mother's death. He then helped propel the Rangers to a seven-game upset of the Penguins when he scored the team's first goal in Game 6.

At the time, St. Louis wasn't that close to his teammates, having been a Ranger only since March, when they traded away popular team captain Ryan Callahan to get him. Still, the team rallied around him, attending his mother's funeral en masse in Laval, Quebec, before Game 1 of their third-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

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"When I look back at that time, I think about my teammates and how unbelievable they and this entire organization were," said St. Louis, who led the Rangers with eight goals in last year's playoffs.

St. Louis' teammates still marvel at how he conducted himself during such a stressful time.

"It was such an emotional series," left wing Carl Hagelin said. "Marty, having to go through what he went through, was a true professional. You can just see how the spirit within the team jumped up when he started playing great. I think going back [to Pittsburgh] again is definitely going to be emotional for him. He's an emotional guy and kind of feeds off of that."

The year after losing a loved one is always filled with painful, emotional firsts. There are birthdays she never saw, a Christmas when she wasn't there. This month marks the first time that St. Louis has entered a playoff season of any kind without France, who he believes was instrumental in getting him where he is today.

"My mom, she was my No. 1 fan," St. Louis said. "I think about that a lot now."

At 5-8, St. Louis is one of the shortest players in the league. France, who was 4-11, never saw lack of height as a liability. St. Louis recalls how she would look him straight in the eye when he was growing up and tell him he had to go after what he wanted.

"My mom wasn't very big. But she was very convincing," he said. "She would tell me not to let anyone stand in the way of my dreams, that I could show them."

France was thrilled when the dream carried him to the NHL, first with the Calgary Flames and then for 13 years with Tampa Bay. She got to see him win a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004.

Every winter while St. Louis was in Tampa, France and his father, Normand, would drive down from Quebec to Tampa, towing an RV. Proud parents and grandparents, they helped out with St. Louis' three boys, cheering them on at their youth hockey games.

When St. Louis' dream was to leave Tampa and join a team that had a shot to go deep in the playoffs, France supported that, too.

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St. Louis knows that his mother would enjoy the season the Rangers are having. This year, unlike last season, expectations are incredibly high and they are favored to get to the Stanley Cup Final.

"She would be so happy for us to have the kind of season we did," St. Louis said. "I like to think about that. She would be loving this now."