The Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup Champions once again. Tampa Bay defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 1-0 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning were just too much for the Canadiens to handle. Especially the aggressive play of the Lightning defensive unit. A big standout from that unit was Ryan McDonagh. You could have made the case for McDonagh winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, which went to Andrei Vasilevskiy, for the way he played for the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coming up with the big plays in the big moments.
But ever since coming over to the Lightning via trade from the New York Rangers in 2018, McDonagh has fit in perfectly. While many people thought his career was winding down, McDonagh showed he could re-invent himself and continue to improve as a player for the Lightning. And now look at him, McDonagh has won back-to-back Stanley Cups and was a big part of the reason why.
Ryan McDonagh Evolution As A Player
Well, McDonagh was the star in New York, being the captain of the team and the leader on defence, he has taken a back seat to Victor Hedman on defence. For McDonagh that is totally fine as it allows him to play his game. And while he may not be the captain, he is still a leader on the team, wearing an “A” on his sweater. Yes, Hedman gets all the attention, but it is McDonagh and his partner Erik Cernak getting the toughest matchups in the playoffs. This move has allowed McDonagh to evolve as a player. His role on the Lightning has allowed Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev to be more offensive-minded.
McDonagh went up against the likes of Aleksander Barkov of Florida in Round One. Sebastian Aho of Carolina in Round Two. Matthew Barzal of the Islanders in Round Three. And the line of Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki of the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final. Not to mention he kills penalties too. So it is quite impressive he led all Lightning players with a +18. He is the Lightning’s best even-strength defenceman.
Ever since coming over to the Lightning, McDonagh has brought so much experience to the table. He went to a Stanley Cup Final with the Rangers in 2014. Though they lost, he learned what it took to win. Then following to the Lightning the following year in Game 7 of the Conference Final. Not to mention the experience and growth he experienced with the Lightning. Losing to Washington in Game 7 of the 2018 Conference Final. The sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019.
That experience allowed McDonagh to evolve as a player knowing when to jump into the play and be aggressive. And when to sit back and biding his time in the defensive zone before going on the attack.
“I think most importantly, our play with the puck, our decision-making with the puck, our understanding of when there’s a play to be made and when there’s not, to be high-percentage,” McDonagh said to reporters after Game 7. “It’s been the biggest key to our success the last handful of years, for sure last year. … It’s just not feeding teams, not turning pucks over.”
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Ryan McDonagh Impact In The Playoffs
Just look at the plays he made in the Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens. His reads especially off of turnovers allowed the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup in five games. We broke down his play on the Blake Coleman diving goal in Game 2, and the way he read the play perfectly-getting the puck up to Barclay Goodrow.
But he was doing it all series. It started in Game 1 and continued into Game 5. But as McDonagh talked about in the post-game presser, his decision-making has evolved as a player leading to a major impact for the Lightning this postseason.
Just look at what McDonagh did on the Goodrow goal in Game 4. McDonagh’s aggressive play at the blue line keeping the puck in led to the Lightning tying the game at 1-1. Again it was off another Montreal turnover. But that is in part because of how aggressive the defence especially McDonagh was playing. The puck bounces over to Blake Coleman. Coleman passes the puck to McDonagh, who brings Carey Price and Jeff Petry to him. From there McDonagh slides the puck to an open Goodrow into an open net. Just another evolution of Ryan McDonagh and how he reads plays.
Then on the game-winning goal with Ross Colton, McDonagh’s patience paid off nicely. There is a pile along the boards and instead of going in and helping out, he sits on the blue line. The puck comes to him and he opens up the Canadiens defence walking the blue line. He slides the puck to David Savard who finds Colton back door for the Cup Clinching goal.
Again McDonagh had a stellar playoff for the Lightning. If it wasn’t for McDonagh being able to evolve as a player, the Lightning might not have won back-to-back Stanley Cups. You need players to accept roles and he did. And McDonagh was able to adapt and change to each series and each situation he was put in. Ryan McDonagh is an important piece to this Lightning defence. If he isn’t protected it will be a real shock considering what he did in the playoffs for them.