Lightning’s Ryan McDonagh is a Stanley Cup playoff mainstay

TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh doesn’t get the same kind of attention as his more offensively minded counterparts.

He didn’t put up a 20-goal, 85-point season this year like Victor Hedman, who had a career-best four points in Wednesday’s Game 2 victory over the Maple Leafs. And McDonagh’s name likely won’t come up in the Norris Trophy conversation alongside the Predators’ Roman Josi and the Avalanche’s Cale Makar.

But what McDonagh does, year after year, is find his way into the playoffs, where he always makes an impact. In his 12 seasons in the league, he has never missed the postseason.

The veteran, 32, spent his first seven seasons with the Rangers before he was traded to the Lightning in 2017-18. Of his 12 playoff appearances, only three have resulted in first-round exits. Three others ended in the Cup final, including back-to-back championships the past two seasons.

He doesn’t take such opportunities for granted.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to play in the playoffs every year,” McDonagh said. “I’ve been around enough players that have missed the playoffs at times. … You know it’s not a great feeling.”

Related: Do you want the Stanley Cup? You’ve got to take it from these guys

As the Lightning chase a third straight championship, McDonagh continues to play an integral role. He skates in the second defense pair (typically with Erik Cernak, but more recently with Cal Foote or Zach Bogosian) and plays critical minutes on the top penalty-kill unit.

McDonagh, one of the Lightning’s alternate captains and a former Rangers captain, has been a key part of the leadership group that has guided Tampa Bay to a conference final and two Cup titles over the past four seasons.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) and Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) work in front of Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the first period of Game 2.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) and Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) work in front of Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the first period of Game 2. [ FRANK GUNN | AP ]

He knows what it takes to win and how costly mistakes can add up, which is why he doesn’t make them a habit. He is composed at all times on the ice, never getting too high or too low.

“You don’t want to play 82 games, give everything you can to not have a chance at going after the Stanley Cup,” he said.

Related: Lightning-Maple Leafs Game 2 report card: Perfect timing

Dan Girardi, who played with McDonagh for nine seasons between New York and Tampa Bay, said he saw signs that McDonagh could become one of the great defensemen in the league, even as a young player.

“He does everything really well, and his details are great about the game, which translates to him being successful in the playoffs, getting his team to playoffs every year, making long runs,” Girardi said. “It’s no secret why the teams he’s on are successful in the playoffs.”

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Since his NHL debut in 2010-11, McDonagh has played in a league-high 162 playoff games, averaging 24:42 per game while recording 59 points (48 assists). Last year I have received three votes for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the postseason MVP.

In the first two games of the first-round series against the Maple Leafs, McDonagh had seven blocked shots, five hits, two shot attempts and one shot on goal while averaging 20:44.

Related: Lightning penalty kill shuts down Maple Leafs

“He’s an absolute stabilizer,” assistant coach Derek Lalonde said. “We are calm when he’s in there, whether it’s just poise on breakouts, whether it’s his defensive game, his efficiency with his game.

“It always hurts when players are out, but when he’s out, we really feel it. … His game from him is so poised and calm, he stabilizes all five guys when he’s out there.

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.

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