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No summer vacation for Ryan McDonagh

Rangers captain focused on success this season after early playoff exit

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

EDINA, Minn. -- New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh isn't used to spending so much time in Minnesota during the offseason.

Before the Rangers were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, they had advanced to at least the conference final three times in four seasons. 

The five-game loss to the Penguins was the Rangers' earliest postseason exit since McDonagh's rookie season of 2010-11, when they lost to the Washington Capitals in the first round.

"Unfortunately, this has probably been my longest summer in five years," the St. Paul, Minn., native said last week. "I don't think I've been home before June."

As much as McDonagh loves his home state, the 27-year-old defenseman is determined not to be back here so early next summer. Healthy after a broken finger kept him out of the first two games of the playoffs, he's working hard to make sure he's ready for a long season.

Video: PIT@NYR: McDonagh wraps around to even the game at 3

"All the Ranger guys here, myself, [Derek] Stepan and Brady [Skjei] are training together and really trying to take advantage of the extra time we've got for unfortunate reasons, being knocked out early," he said. "We've been skating and training hard together getting ready for this year."

Maybe the early exit was the byproduct of taking for granted the commitment it took from all of the Rangers to go as far as they had the previous four seasons. Maybe part of it was fatigue.

Though the Rangers played 12 playoff rounds and 76 postseason games from 2011-12 through 2014-15, they were unable to win the Stanley Cup during that span. They reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, but lost to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.

"We've been fortunate to have some pretty long runs, obviously, not successful as we want to be," McDonagh said, "But sometimes you kind of lose your focus on how much you need to prepare and how much it takes to get yourself in that position again. Myself, I know I'm working as hard as I can ever remember to try to get myself ready to play the way I want to play, and help to get this team where we want it to be, and where we need it to be. So I think everybody is really excited to get back and work hard as a team and form a group that's real tough to play against.

"That was our motto a few years back. We just really worked hard and made it a tough night for whoever we were playing against, so we've got to get back to that kind of motto."

Video: CBJ@NYR: McDonagh knocks down Calvert in open ice

Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton is counting on that type of attitude from all of the players, and getting it from his captain is a good place to start. Following a July 18 trade that sent center Derick Brassard and a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft to the Ottawa Senators for center Mika Zibanejad and a 2018 second-round pick, Gorton said, "After losing in the first round, I would expect that most of our players, if not all of them, will come back with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder."

The early ending to last season is clearly driving McDonagh.

"It's not a good feeling to lose in the first round in five [games] the way we did," he said. "That's the biggest motivation, kind of that feeling of embarrassment and letting your teammates down, letting your organization down, letting the fans down that appreciate us and watch us all year. So, like I said, I'm really anxious to, hopefully, see a lot of hard work from the guys paying off this year."

McDonagh said he didn't expect Brassard, who led the Rangers with 27 goals and ranked second with 58 points last season, to be traded, but mentioned the positives as they got younger and a little bigger and stronger at center. Brassard, 28, is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Zibanejad, 23, is 6-2, 222 pounds.

"It's always surprising to see a close teammate, a guy who has been a big part of our success the past few years [be traded]," McDonagh said. "But we're getting a young player who is just on the cusp of being a big-time player in this league. So we're pretty excited to get him. He's another big body and a good skater. It's obviously unfortunate whenever you lose a close friend, but at the same time, we're getting a good player too."

Video: MIN@NYR: McDonagh puts the Rangers on the board

Other than the trade and the departure of defenseman Keith Yandle, who was headed for unrestricted free agency before he was traded to the Florida Panthers, the Rangers' core remains intact. McDonagh said he believes the group, as is, is capable of getting back to a high level.

In 2014-15, the Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points and came within one game of reaching the Final for the second year in a row but lost 2-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"There's a lot of guys who were part of those long runs still around, and we're going to have good leadership with this team with the guys we've got coming back," McDonagh said. "We've been through some somewhat good times and good runs, but also some bad times, which was just recent.

"I think our group has a good mix of young guys still on the verge of making a name for themselves and being a little hungry, and guys with some experience who want to get back to being successful again."

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