A emotional return for three former Blueshirts

Before the puck drops for tonight’s match between the Lightning and Rangers at The Garden, there’s sure to be plenty of emotion for three former Blueshirts. Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller will take the ice as a visitor for the first time at MSG. Something current Tampa teammates Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman are very familiar with.

That it’s the Rangers’ 41st and final home game of a emotional season without the playoffs for the first time since 2010 makes it more significant for both players and fans of the team. I only wish I could be there with my family. But they have three seats for it. Not four. So I told my Dad to go. I can watch the entire thing on TV and have the same reaction at home.

It’s already been odd to see McDonagh and Miller wearing Bolts colors with Girardi instead of Rangers blue. Now they’ll all have their first return to MSG on the same night the team will honor a current member with the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. One which embodies what being a Ranger is all about. Mats Zuccarello has won it three times including the past two seasons.

The top candidates are Henrik Lundqvist, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and Marc Staal. I voted for Hayes because I feel he’s given a great effort all season while adjusting to a new checking role facing opponents’ top scoring lines. All this and he’s improved overall with a new personal best 22 goals including five on the power play while doing better on face offs (50.0 percent) and continuing to excel on the penalty kill. He enters the match with 40 points and is a plus-one which speaks to how well he’s played against tougher quality of competition.

I chose Hayes because he’s a skater and I believe the award should go to one over a goalie. Lundqvist is the Team MVP every year. He really hasn’t been that good since early January. If you want to argue that the team in front of him wasn’t good, fine. Rookie Alexandar Georgiev had the same defense and showed enough in his cameo to possibly become the backup next season. It won’t be Lundqvist in net tonight. Rather Ondrej Pavelec, who was tremendous in his return in relief of Georgiev.

As for McDonagh, he gave a lot of input in a long seven-minute interview on what tonight means for him, his D partner Girardi and Miller, who has played very well supplying physicality and scoring on their new team. There’s a lot of emotion.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Rangers handle the returns of their former captain, Girardi and Miller. Will they each get video tributes during separate stoppages? It’s pretty crazy to think all this will be going on along with the big Steven McDonald Award presented by son Conor.

Indeed, it won’t be just another game. One that we’ll remember for a while.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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