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Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh takes his game to another level in March

Ryan McDonagh sets before a faceoff against the

Ryan McDonagh sets before a faceoff against the Detroit Red Wings in the second period of a game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, March 9, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

CALGARY, Alberta - When March came in like a lion, Ryan McDonagh roared.

Widely acknowledged as one of the best young shutdown blueliners in the league, the 24-year-old Rangers defenseman has been tearing up the scoresheet this month with six goals and seven assists in 14 games, including consecutive game-winners against Phoenix and Philadelphia.

"He's been lights out all year long," Marc Staal said. "He's been so impressive: his poise with the puck, the confidence he has with it in making plays. Everything he touches turns to gold right now."

McDonagh's 14 goals are tied for fourth among NHL defensemen and the most by any Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch (21 in 2000-01). His six goals in March tied Leetch's January 1998 record for the most goals by a Rangers defenseman in a calendar month.

Known as "MacTruck" for his speed and physical play, McDonagh has two more games left in March -- tonight against the Flames and Sunday in Edmonton. That's the start of a four-city trip as the Rangers (41-29-4, 86 points), who have won five straight, look to secure their hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The goals are just one measure of McDonagh's value. He also has 29 assists and is a plus-11 while mostly facing opponents' top lines.

In his postgame remarks Wednesday, coach Alain Vigneault declared what many regular observers have been thinking. "He's just been a force out there," Vigneault said. "He's got to be getting some consideration for the Norris Trophy the way he's been playing offensively and defensively, playing against the top lines, defending extremely well . . . He's been one of our best players all year."

Vigneault said that when McDonagh sees an opportunity to join the rush, "he's got the green light all the time."

For his part, McDonagh, a durable St. Paul, Minn., native who played for the United States in Sochi, credited partner Dan Girardi with a major assist. "I've been able to make good reads with the group of forwards I've been out there with," he said. "And Girardi has been huge this whole stretch, this whole season. We've been able to talk, and I really feed off him. He's so quick at breaking plays up, it allows me to join the rush, and when you see him jumping in too, it's great."

The offensive outburst certainly is an indication that McDonagh, who is signed through the 2018-19 season, is morphing into an all-around star. In his one full NHL season, 2011-12, he had seven goals and 25 assists. He was 4-15-19 in 47 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

"MacTruck is on fire," Staal said. "You give him the puck, he's putting everything in."

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