Practice makes perfect for St. Louis

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NEW YORK -- There was Martin St. Louis on Sunday morning, working on his shot, almost from the exact same spot he'd score his team's biggest goal of the season some 12 hours later.

So often the last player off the ice in practice or at the morning skate, that's when you'll find the veteran star ripping shots at the net, again, and again, and again.

For all the kids out there dreaming to one day score a big playoff overtime goal, that's where it starts, putting in the time in practice. There are no short cuts, and never has there been for St. Louis.

"The goal he scored tonight is exactly what you see him practice every time he's on the ice, like a hundred pucks," New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said after his team's huge 3-2 OT win. "He's trying to put it right there. Made obviously a great shot on that goal."

Vigneault later added in French: "It's his favorite shot ... before and after practice, morning day skates, it's something he's always doing -- working on his shot. He got the puck at the right spot and it was quite a shot to win us the game."

Stubborn, that St. Louis, isn't he? He went upstairs, glove side on Dustin Tokarski despite the fact he had been foiled right there over the past two games by the Montreal Canadiens rookie netminder, including a breathtaking glove save in the second period when St. Louis was stopped on a breakaway. There was also the incredible glove save late in the third period of Game 3.

One more time, St. Louis figured.

"I felt I had room, and I tried to trust what I saw, and obviously I've gone to that side quite a bit the last few games and he's made some good saves on me," St. Louis said after giving the Blueshirts a 3-1 series lead. "Sometimes you just have to keep trusting what you see and I was fortunate to get it by him."

He trusted what he saw because of the thousands of practice shots he had taken in his career. He knew where that puck was headed.

You can hardly blame Tokarski on the night. All three goals he gave up were on Rangers who were in all alone. And this time, St. Louis got him.

"He's a world-class player and he had a bit of time. He picked a corner on me," Tokarski said.

For St. Louis, it was his first playoff OT goal in a decade, his previous one a Game 6 winner for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. His Sunday night heroics put his team just one more win away from the big dance.

And it continued the amazing storyline that has seen the Rangers rallying around St. Louis, who lost his mother before Mother's Day but has battled through that personal pain to play the best hockey of his season.

"Mentally, it's been impressive to go through what he's gone through, but it's also a getaway for him," said linemate and good pal Brad Richards. "He's using it and he knows there will be a time to settle down and grieve, but he's doing this on good emotions from his mom and he obviously wants big things for that situation. He's just riding it."

The winning play happened because the Canadiens had about a million chances to clear the puck but couldn't. Carl Hagelin, who opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, spotted St. Louis across the ice and fed him for the winner, which electrified Madison Square Garden.

The Swedish winger was surprised St. Louis was so open.

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