Rangers' Ryan McDonagh earns pair of team awards; will he play in Montreal?
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MONTREAL - With home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs clinched, the Rangers' regular-season finale at Bell Centre Saturday night isn't as meaningful as other visits.
It is, however, for the Canadiens, who have 98 points and are trying to fend off Tampa Bay (97 and a game in hand) for home ice against the Lightning in the playoffs.
The teams have split two games this season, with the Canadiens earning a 2-0 win on Oct. 28 in the Rangers' home opener and the Rangers squeaking out a 1-0 victory here Nov. 16.
But a more intriguing story line could be the return of Ryan McDonagh -- who certainly haunts fans and the front office in this city -- after missing four games with a shoulder injury.
McDonagh, who coach Alain Vigneault said will be a game-time decision, was chosen in the first round of the 2007 draft (12th overall) by the Canadiens and traded to the Rangers in the summer of 2009 in a forgettable swap by former general manager Bob Gainey. The deal brought McDonagh, Chris Higgins and Pavel Valentenko to the Rangers for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto.
All that McDonagh, 24, has done since is blossom from a premier shutdown defenseman into a future Norris Trophy candidate. He has 14 goals and 43 points this season and is averaging 25 minutes a game.
McDonagh was voted the team's MVP by media covering the team and received the Players' Player Award from his teammates, the Rangers announced Friday. He is the first Ranger to earn both in the same season since Brian Leetch in 2002-03.
Henrik Lundqvist was voted MVP for the previous seven seasons and Ryan Callahan was named Players' Player for the previous three. That is rarefied air for the Minnesota native, who is in his fourth season.
"In my estimation, he can only get better as a player and leader and assume more responsibility," Vigneault said. "He is a great person, has a real even keel to how he goes about himself, and I think he will become a real big part of our foundation."
And he is one Ranger whom the Canadiens would prefer to have watching from the press box Saturday night.
Notes & quotes: Cam Talbot (12-6, 1.67 GAA and .940 save percentage), who blanked the Canadiens in November, is likely to be in net again to give a break to Lundqvist, who has started 14 of the previous 15 games.