Instead of practicing Sunday, the Rangers traveled to Laval, Quebec, to attend the funeral of Martin St. Louis' mother, France, who passed away on May 8 from a heart attack. She was 63 years old.
Players, coaches, management and other staff members all went to be there for their mourning teammate, who has played through grief and has four points, including two goals, in four games (all wins) since his mother died.
St. Louis scored the first goal in the Rangers' 7-2 win on Saturday.
Upon returning to Bell Centre to speak with the media in the afternoon, the players and coach Alain Vigneault talked about the emotions of the day, the sorrow they felt, and trying to push past it all so they can prepare for Game 2, which is Monday at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"What I can say is that the New York Rangers family has been touched by a little Quebec family in a deep, profound way," Vigneault said. "[Sunday] was very emotional, very moving time for our team to have the opportunity to be there and to share that with Marty and his family. Marty took the stand, or the podium, however you want to call it, and shared some incredible moments. It was a very deep message and it was a challenging day for us."
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said the team would have figured out a way to attend the funeral no matter where it was, even if the Rangers were in Boston for the Eastern Conference Final, because of the emotional pull to be there for St. Louis.
They didn't have to go far since Laval is located just north of Montreal.
"Everybody wants to be there to support him as best we can; the one way to do it is to show up," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "You don't need to say much to him. You know what he's going through. You just want to let him see you, make sure he knows you're there and if there's anything we can do, he knows where he can find us."
Vigneault praised St. Louis for getting up and speaking at the funeral, calling him "a much better man than I am to be able to do something like that."
"You can just see it in his eyes, there's pain there for sure as you could only imagine, but the way he approached it was to look at the good things, the good times, the memories, and he shared a couple of those with us during the service," McDonagh said. "You could just tell she was a great lady and influenced him a lot."
McDonagh, like many of the Rangers, didn't know France St. Louis. He only met Martin for the first time when he arrived in New York on March 5, NHL Trade Deadline day, through a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
St. Louis has since become a fixture in the dressing room and one of the leaders of the team. His new teammates have expressed the utmost respect for him, especially for the professionalism he has shown over these past nine days.
"I think we all know this will probably hit him when hockey is over and he has time to reflect, but he's done an unbelievable job keeping everything together and helping his sister and his dad get through this," said center Brad Richards, one of three Rangers (Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot) who previously played with St. Louis in Tampa Bay. "You wouldn't expect anything else."
The Rangers have openly talked about how they are trying to rally around St. Louis' emotion and use what he's going through as motivation to keep playing in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are 4-0 since his mother passed.
On Sunday, though, they talked about being cognizant of going too far with that rallying cry because nothing they do on the ice or off is going to change the fact that the St. Louis family is in mourning.
"I think just the biggest thing is it made Marty get to know the guys, the group and the organization a lot quicker than he would have if that didn't happen," Richards said. "He felt the organization was there to support him. We felt how passionate he was coming back and playing. I think it just made us get closer to him. He really feels like he's a Ranger now with what he went through and everybody behind him."
Vigneault suggested that the fact that the Rangers are still playing has helped the St. Louis family through the grieving process.
"His family, his sister and his father, his aunts and uncles, and everybody that's close to him, I think what they're doing is they're moving on through our team," Vigneault said. "The fact that we're still playing is enabling them to cope and handle this challenging situation."
Now the Rangers have to move on from what was a challenging day. Despite their heavy hearts, they have to refocus on hockey to get ready for Game 2.
Vigneault said it shouldn't be a problem.
"[Monday] morning we're going to practice and we're going to start focusing on what we need to do hockey-wise. That's the only thing we can do," he said. "[Sunday] is a day we think about Marty and his family and his mother, and [Monday] life goes on and we've gotta get ready for a big game."