The last time the New York Rangers clashed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blueshirts were rocked by tragedy when veteran forward Martin St. Louis' mother died of a heart attack the day after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Down 3-1 in the series, the Rangers rallied around a heartbroken St. Louis, who made an emotional return in Game 5 and led the team to upset the Penguins in seven games.
The stunning sequence of events was a major storyline for the remainder of that spring, as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings. St. Louis sat down to talk about what that journey was like and how he is feeling heading into this postseason.
STRANG: How has this year been, having a full season with the Rangers, compared to last season, coming in at the trade deadline?
ST. LOUIS: I think it was good. Coming off a very good playoff run last year, you start the year with a lot of new faces and young guys; you gotta sort things out a little bit. You've got injuries and what not. But I'm proud of how we handled it as a team. We grew as the year went on, got healthy, really took off, ya know? [We] stayed composed through the tough times.
STRANG: Obviously the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring was an emotional one for you and this team. Does facing them again bring some difficult memories back?
ST. LOUIS: For sure. Playoffs definitely remind me, you know, of some of the things that I'd gone through last year. And that's expected. And, you know, it's OK.
STRANG: You had said last spring that it might take some time to fully process what had happened, that it might not be until the playoffs were done that reality would sink in and you'd have time to reflect. Did you have time to do that this summer?
ST. LOUIS: Oh yeah. I'd think back on how everything went. It was a pretty special two months as a team to go through what we went through and how they supported me and how it played out, if you think about it. Having Montreal beat Boston and have my teammates be at the funeral and whatnot, everything with how it played out, it was special, ya know? I was proud of -- I know we didn't win the Cup -- but I was proud of how we played and we gave ourselves a very good chance. Could've used a couple of bounces in some of those overtime games, but I was really excited about another opportunity and what we had in there. Yeah, there's definitely a time where you can reflect. I still reflect sometimes on that stuff.
STRANG: Did going through that change your perspective on anything? Life, hockey? Did it change how you spent your summer? How much more you wanted to spend time with your family?
ST. LOUIS: I think it changed me in how I look at life, I think, a little bit. Things like that happen so close to you and it changes your perspective. Maybe not be so hooked on the little things that sometimes messes [with] your day. I think as a society, we don't appreciate life enough and so, I think for me, it definitely helped me have that perspective and try to really enjoy my family and the experience I'm going through with the New York Rangers.
STRANG: Do you think your leadership role has changed, evolved since last season?
ST. LOUIS: I think so, definitely. I think leadership isn't something that's stamped on you. It's something you have to earn, the respect of your teammates and I think I know them better now, they know me better now than a year ago. Yeah, it definitely has evolved. We have some great leaders in here and it's easy to be a leader when you're surrounded by good leaders.
STRANG: It sounds like you have taken rookie forward Kevin Hayes under your wing.
ST. LOUIS: Yeah, you try to encourage him and try to give him some pointers here and there. There's a lot of things that -- I find that if you want to play in this league for a long time, you have to learn from the young guys, too. I think he's taught me some things, too. I always tell him it's a two-way street. It's not just me feeding you information. As a linemate, you've got to give me some too, because that's the only way, I think. You play in this league a long time, you can't be stubborn in your ways. You have to be open-minded in how other people might see the game and that might benefit your play. I definitely cherish that and welcome that.
STRANG: How do you feel about that mix in this room, in terms of the veterans and the young, skilled players, and what sort of dynamic do you think that brings heading into the playoffs?
ST. LOUIS: We do have a good mix. I think the experience we had last year is gonna help us, but our young guys have matured a lot this year and the new guys really jumped on board. It is a mix, and every year it's a new story. Every year is a new team, and you're trying to find your own way. That's what you're looking to do.
STRANG: So if every year is a new story, what do you hope this year's story will be?
ST. LOUIS: Of course everybody wants to win, ya know? Just finding a way, really. Just finding a way.