LOS ANGELES -- Mark Messier stayed in the background during the Eastern Conference Finals this year, opting to let the New York Rangers enjoy the spotlight in their showdown with the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils won the series in six games, exacting a small measure of revenge for the 1994 conference finals when Messier's Rangers defeated the Devils in seven games and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Messier was on hand Monday at Staples Center before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final to announce the finalists for his leadership award, a trio that included the Rangers' Ryan Callahan, the Kings' Dustin Brown and the Coyotes' Shane Doan, and discussed his emotions while watching the Devils and Rangers renew pleasantries 18 years later.
"It was an incredible time," said Messier, who serves as a special assistant to Rangers GM Glen Sather. "A lot of our teammates were texting back and forth and talking during the series. I was trying to stay out of the way during the series. I really felt the players on both teams earned the right to be in that position and shouldn't have been overshadowed by things that happened prior to that series. My ship had sailed a long time ago."
One of the big reasons the Rangers fell short this year was Marian Gaborik, who played nearly the entire postseason with a torn rotator cuff and had just five goals and six assists in 20 games. Gaborik will be out five to six months while he recovers, meaning he could miss the first couple of months of the 2012-13 season, but Messier has seen him grow since signing with the Rangers three years ago.
"Marian Gaborik is 10 times the hockey player he was when he came to the Rangers," Messier said. "He continues to improve and continues to want to improve."
Despite the disappointment, Messier believes this year's deep run for a young Rangers team could pay dividends down the road.
"I think the last three years have been a real great spark for the team and the organization," Messier said. "I think Glen has really done a great job of getting some key people in the right spots. I think the year that we had this year is a culmination of what we had the last couple years. Going forward, I think this year, you can't quantify what it means for these players to play this string of playoff hockey, to feel what it's like to play that deep in the playoffs. Those are hard lessons to learn unless you experience them. From that standpoint, our team has taken a major leap forward this year."
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