For decades, Madison Square Garden has been the setting for emotional moments, whether it has been in sports or music or politics. Sunday night on Seventh Avenue could be another one of those evenings.
In the past few days, the Rangers have endured a gut-wrenching journey that began when the team's charter flight landed in Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon and Martin St. Louis learned that his mother, France, had died suddenly in Montreal. After he flew there to be with his family, it continued with his unexpected return to Pittsburgh Friday for a potential playoff elimination game and concluded that night in a stirring 5-1 victory over the Penguins in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
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The Rangers trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
"I've never been through something in hockey or even, fortunately, in my life," Rangers center Brad Richards, a longtime friend of the St. Louis family, said Saturday.
"We were all right there when Marty got the news," he said. "A lot of people have gone through this, [but] you don't know how to react, you don't know how to do anything. So that 36 hours was tough, because we all wanted to go back to Montreal with Marty and didn't want to see him flying back without us. And to come in the next day and see him and the spirits he was in and have our team kind of rally around that, I've never had to deal with or see anything like that."
Richards termed it a "special" night Friday, "but to be honest, you hope you don't have to be involved in those situations too often."
Alain Vigneault, a veteran coach who is in his first year behind the Rangers' bench, told St. Louis late Thursday that "there are bigger things than hockey" and that he would respect whatever decision he made.
Which brings us to Game 6 Sunday night at the Garden, another win-or-go-home game for the Rangers -- and this time on Mother's Day.
"Obviously, it's going to be a very emotional night again for our group, it being Mother's Day and the situation Marty is going through right now," Vigneault said Saturday. "Marty flew home last night to Montreal after the game to pick up his father [Normand] and his sister [Isabelle]. He's bringing them both to the game [Sunday night] and, hopefully that will bring us some positive energy."
If the Rangers win Sunday night after losing Games 3 and 4 at the Garden, Game 7 will be played Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
"Our first game at home [a 2-0 loss], we played real well," Vigneault said. "We limited Pittsburgh to 15 shots. We had 35 . . . We just didn't finish. The second game, obviously, we'd like to forget about that one [a 4-2 loss]. It was a bad time to have a bad game, but we did and we moved past it and we got ready for last night and we played a good game. Now we're back home."
Vigneault understands that the Penguins still have an edge. "If they don't win [Sunday night], they still have another opportunity," he said.
"From our standpoint, we don't have a choice. Our level of play, our level of execution, our level of compete and desperation has to be as high as it can be."
In Game 4, the Rangers -- and in particular Rick Nash, who has one goal in 24 playoff games as a Ranger over two seasons -- were booed by a significant number of fans. Given recent events, it's doubtful that the fans will react that way Sunday night.
Richards said that to disrupt the Penguins, the Rangers have to outskate them in five-man units the way they did in Game 5.
"When your season is on the line, it's a given that you've got to come in with every ounce that you have mentally and physically and put it all on the line," Richards said. "That's the biggest challenge is getting everybody to put forth that energy level and try to do it all again and make them get to our level.
"We'll use the different [motivations]. Marty [Friday] night. It's Mother's Day [Sunday]. We'll try to use that to get even more emotion and try and get a big win."