Another night and, quite possibly, another significant injury to an Eastern Conference playoff contender.
New York Rangers captain and workhorse defenseman Ryan McDonagh left Monday's game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first period with a yet-to-be-disclosed injury, and the Rangers announced via their Twitter account he would not return. Multiple beat writers attending the contest appeared to pinpoint the source of the injury, however, and it doesn't look good. McDonagh blocked a Brandon Dubinsky shot with his right hand. It's too early to know how serious the injury is, but it doesn't bode well that the Rangers ruled him out so quickly. A look at the play that likely caused the injury:
McDonagh leads all Broadway Blueshirts in ice time this season and is arguably their most important player next to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Per war-on-ice.com, McDonagh faces the toughest quality of competition of all Ranger defensemen. His opponents post a Corsi For per 60 of 55.05, and McDonagh's 5-on-5 score adjusted Corsi still rates higher than the team average. He's a vital piece on a Rangers team with the 15th-best possession rating among the 16 squads currently occupying playoff positions.
The Rangers held on to beat Columbus Monday night and thus clinched a playoff berth, but how far can they go if McDonagh's injury keeps him out long term? If the post-season started today, they'd open on the road against the hottest team in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Of all teams for the defensively hampered Rangers to face without McDonagh, Sidney Crosby and the high-flying Pens might be the worst.
Losing McDonagh would be especially devastating for the Blueshirts considering how many other Eastern Conference teams are beatable right now. The Tampa Bay Lightning looked like the powerhouse Washington Capitals' greatest threat but will open round 1 without vital cogs Steven Stamkos (blood clot) and Anton Stralman (broken tibia). The Florida Panthers won't have Vincent Trocheck (lower body) for the start of the playoffs, either. The Rangers are among the Eastern Conference's deepest teams at every position and still hold a goaltending advantage over virtually every potential opponent, but they don't look nearly as dangerous sans-McDonagh.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin