MONTREAL -- It was a somber scene within the tight confines of the Bell Centre's visitors dressing room Sunday afternoon, certainly not a tableau one would expect for a team that had pulled out a commanding 7-2 road win less than 24 hours prior.
The New York Rangers did not practice following their Game 1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Instead, they used their off day to travel as a team -- the owner, the players, the coach and all the staffers -- the short distance to Laval, Quebec, to attend the funeral for teammate Martin St. Louis' mother, France, who passed away last week with a heart attack.
Veterans Brad Richards, Marc Staal, Dominic Moore and Dan Girardi gathered back at the arena later that afternoon, addressing the media following a painful, yet necessary day in what has been a difficult week and a half.
For a team that has weathered the type of emotional whiplash that comes from experiencing both tragedy in triumph in stark contrast, they were both measured and respectful in discussing what had transpired. They didn't provide specifics of the private service, but they offered a glimpse into how St. Louis -- the person, not the player -- dealt with such a profound loss. They voiced their support for both him and his family during such a trying time.
"What I can say is that the New York Rangers family has been touched by a little Quebec family in a deep, profound way," said coach Alain Vigneault, whose voice seemed on the verge of breaking. "Today was a very emotional, very moving time for our team to have the opportunity to be there and share that with Marty and his family."
Vigneault has talked often about what the situation has done to galvanize the team, how this has brought the club closer and inspired the players to play with renewed passion and purpose. But there is also an earnest concern to ensure St. Louis' personal tragedy is not hijacked as a useful narrative to win hockey games, so when the family thanked the Rangers at one point during the dual-language French/ English service, Vigneault was heartened.
The St. Louis family has clung to the Rangers' postseason hopes as a needed distraction while dealing with the grieving process, Vigneault said. And the Rangers want to provide that comfort.
"I think what they're doing is they're moving on through the team," Vigneault said. "The fact that we're still playing is enabling them to cope and handle the challenging situation."
Ten days ago, it would've been hard for anyone to predict that the Rangers would still be playing. After Game 4 of the their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team appeared cooked -- out of gas, demoralized and defeated by the 3-1 series lead the Pens had built. Ultimately, the turning point of their postseason did not come after a dazzling goal, a thunderous check or a singularly spectacular individual performance. It came following St. Louis' gut-wrenching tragedy.
The veteran forward was probably doing the same thing as all of his teammates, stewing over a frustrating Game 4 defeat and pondering the daunting task of a two-game series hole, when the team charter landed in Pittsburgh on May 8. Then he got the news that his beloved mother, France St. Louis, had died of a heart attack at age 63.