Former Rangers top pick may play bigger role for beat-up Capitals in Game 2

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Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK

Dylan McIlrath played just one game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the New York Rangers after they selected him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. On Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, he’ll play his second straight postseason game against his former team when the Washington Capitals try to even the best-of-7 playoff series in Game 2 against the Rangers.

And McIlrath may have an expanded role against the Blueshirts since the Capitals are down three defensemen for Game 2.

Vincent Iorio is day to day with an upper-body injury sustained in the series opener when Alexis Lafreniere checked him hard off the puck to set up Artemi Panarin’s goal at 4:50 of the second period. It was only Iorio’s third shift of the game. He didn’t return and the Capitals finished with five defensemen, including McIlrath, who logged 11:51 in ice time.

McIlrath was only in the Washington lineup because veterans Nick Jensen and Rasmus Sandin are out with upper-body injuries. Each skated in no-contract jerseys at practice Monday and the morning skate Tuesday, but neither will play in Game 2.

Lucas Johansen will replace Iorio and make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut Tuesday. The 2016 first-round pick appeared in six games with the Capitals this season and three more the previous two seasons.

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Dylan McIlrath faces Rangers, former teammates at Madison Square Garden

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at New York Rangers
Dylan McIlrath in 2015 with the Rangers — Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When McIlrath skated against the Rangers in Game 1, a 4-1 Rangers victory Sunday, it was only the second playoff appearance of his career. In fact, the rugged 6-foot-5 defenseman has played only 80 NHL games, including the playoffs, since the Rangers chose hm in the first round 14 years ago.

A knee injury early on derailed his career, especially since McIlrath was never the fleetest skater anyway. He played 38 games with the Rangers after making his NHL debut in 2013-14, and totaled 84 penalty minutes.

Nicknamed “The Undertaker” after the massive professional wrestler, McIlrath carved out a long career as a tough AHL defenseman. The 32-year-old is one of several current Capitals players who won the Calder Cup championship in 2023 with the Hershey Bears, Washington’s AHL affiliate. In fact, McIlrath was Hershey’s captain during the title run.

The lessons they all learned together are being put to use in this series against the Rangers.

“You can look around our locker room, there’s a good chunk of us that went through all of that last year,” McIlrath explained. “Playing four rounds of hockey you have to have a short memory, but learn from your mistakes.”

McIlrath was credited with three hits and received a 10-minute misconduct penalty with a minute to play when the game was already decided. He also was on ice when Washington scored its only goal, by defenseman Martin Fehervary in the second period.

He knows what to expect stepping out onto Garden ice again Tuesday.

“We’ve got to raise out battle level, it’s playoffs,” McIlrath said. “We’re going into a hostile environment. Their crowd is obviously really behind them. So, we have to play our game, make sure the momentum swings aren’t too long in their favor.”

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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