When an early March captain-for-captain swap sent Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis and draft picks, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault decided to wait until the offseason to name a new captain.
It was a curious decision, but one St. Louis, one of three Rangers with a Stanley Cup ring, backed wholeheartedly.
"We don't need one guy driving the bus," St. Louis told the team before the playoffs. "We need 20 guys driving the bus."
Tuesday night, as fans hurled debris and curses onto the Consol Energy Center ice, St. Louis led the Rangers through a handshake line at center ice after New York's 2-1 Game 7 victory. There was no more fitting moment for St. Louis, who had lost his mother to a heart attack a week earlier, than to see him back in the driver's seat.
The Rangers had rebounded from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history and punched their tickets to the Eastern Conference final.
"The impact of my mother's death makes things look really minuscule compared to the life of a person," St. Louis said afterward in his native French. "Her death drew [the team] together a lot. I know she was with me the whole way."
The Rangers rallied around St. Louis, presenting him with the famed Broadway hat after Game 5, a night when he had zero points.
And he gave back, too. On Mother's Day, he scored a goal and presented the hat to the whole team. And Tuesday, he backhanded a pass into the slot in the second period and Brad Richards fired it past Marc-Andre Fleury for the game- and series-winner.
"I couldn't be more proud to be a New York Ranger," St. Louis said. "The boys really embraced and supported me. I can't believe it. We came back three games to one, one at a time."
And there's no need for a captain, really, when you've got the King.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves and became the first goalie in NHL history to win five consecutive Game 7s.
"He was OK," Vigneault joked.
"Hank was unbelievable," St. Louis said. "He's our backbone. He's played like that nickname he carries: the King."
With no captain, the Rangers took on an appearance late in the series that stood in stark contrast to the Penguins and captain Sidney Crosby.
An hour before Game 7, Vigneault remarked: "If you would have asked me before this series stated if -- against this opponent, with the firepower and strength they have -- I'd prefer to play a best-of-7 or a one-game winner-take-all, I'd have probably taken the one-game winner-take-all. And that's what we've got tonight."
Brian Boyle, the Rangers' unlikeliest hero, opened the scoring by finishing a give-and-go in the first period. He had been pointless and a minus-5 in his past six games. The bruising 6-foot-7 centerman's job was to stay out of the box score and, more important, to keep Crosby out of it, too. On this night, he did double duty.
"We don't want to be labeled as fourth-liners," Boyle said.
And on this team, there are no labels. A fourth-liner can drive the bus, too.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.