The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have overcome personal and professional losses on the road to the Stanley Cup finals. Starting Wednesday, the National Hockey League title comes down to two middle-of-the-pack teams who pressed on as better teams fell by the wayside.
The turning point of the New York Rangers’ journey came on Mother’s Day weekend. The Rangers had fallen down 3-1 in a second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins when Martin St. Louis learned his mother, France, had died from a heart attack. “We all wanted plays back after that game,” St. Louis told CBC. “My mom—it made everything seem so small compared to that.”
News of St. Louis’ mother’s death shook the whole team. St. Louis was waiting for a police escort to the Pittsburgh airport a day later when he ran into CBC broadcaster Bob Cole. “He cried, put his head on my shoulder, and had a tear,” Cole said. His teammates struggled to put their feelings into words. “Something like that happens and you reflect a lot about life and what’s important in life,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist told NBC.
The whole team attended France St. Louis’ funeral in Quebec, including Dominic Moore, whose wife died from liver cancer in January 2013. This season is his first after leaving hockey to care for her. “I owe a lot to my teammates for helping me get through this last year and a half,” Moore said.
Both Moore and St. Louis found solace in the close-knit New York locker room. The Rangers have lost just twice since France St. Louis’ death. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis and Moore scored the the biggest goals in the last two games. St. Louis scored in overtime of Game 4 to give the Rangers a 3-1 series lead. Moore netted the only goal in Game 6 as New York advanced to the finals for the first time in 20 years.
“‘Perseverance’ is a word I have a lot of respect for,” Moore told the New York Post after his March nomination for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy for perseverance. “It’s something I’ve tried to bring to the table throughout my career and my life, and I saw a first-hand example of that in my wife.”
The Los Angeles Kings have their own stories of perseverance. Sunday’s Game 7 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks was the Kings’ seventh win when facing elimination in this year’s playoffs. The Kings overcame a 3-0 series deficit in the first round of playoffs against the San Jose Sharks, and they’re the first team in history to win three Game 7s on the road. “It’s just a trust system in this room as the result of being together for hundreds of games,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
Game 1 of the finals in Los Angeles on Wednesday will be No. 104 for the Kings and No. 103 for the Rangers. The grueling season leaves bodies battered, teeth missing, and minds fatigued. But since Mother’s Day weekend, the opposite has felt true for the Rangers.
“When you get on the ice, it helps healing, I feel,” St. Louis said after Thursday’s clincher. “Being surrounded by my teammates, I think it helped me. It brought some joy … throughout our sadness.”