Here’s my column from The Journal News and Lohud.com today:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH – There is no way to truly understand why the Rangers are so good in these situations.
Well, there is the common thread of the goalie stopping pretty much everything when everything is on the line.
But the Rangers, over the last three playoff seasons, have found a way to embrace the situation of “no tomorrow.” For all their faults and failures and flaws, the Rangers have a habit of surviving.
So they head into Game 7 in Pittsburgh Tuesday night, having been down 3-1 in the series and twice beaten back elimination. They play a 12th elimination game in three springtimes (9-2 so far) and a fifth Game 7 in their last seven series (4-0 so far). They have won seven of eight Game 7s since 1992.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault (3-1 in Game 7s) said it was about preparation. He compared it to being in school and, if you studied, you felt ready to take the test, not as nervous.
But there’s more to it. There’s a challenge that must be accepted.
“I think it’s a combination of a couple things,” said Henrik Lundqvist, now 9-2, 1.35, .955 in his last 11 elimination games, and on an NHL record-tying four-game Game 7 winning streak. “You need to enjoy that moment. It is a pressure situation, but at the same time if you look at it as a great opportunity, just a fun game to play, I think you relax a little bit. You go out and play.
“Confidence, too. You can’t just point out one thing. As a group, you need to go out there and feel good about yourself. There’s no second-guessing. You go out and play your absolute best, then you see if it’s enough or not. You can’t play that game and analyze it as you play. Just go out and do what you’ve tried to do all year and try not to overthink it.”
There’s a lot to think about in Game 7. Will the Penguins regain their focus — they were clearly rattled and distracted by the Rangers in Game 6, as they have been in many series since their ’09 Cup. And can Marc-Andre Fleury be trusted to go save-for-save with Lundqvist, if needed?
Center Brad Richards, 6-0 lifetime in Game 7s, said the Rangers’ confidence begins there.
“Probably starts in goaltending,” he said. “Then if you win a few over the years — we’ve won some Game 7s over the years, Ottawa Game 6 elimination; Washington last year, we had to come back and win two games — it builds confidence in the group going through those situations. It gets contagious. You realize that you can do it and you can play under those circumstances.”
Again, though, it’s about accepting the challenge.
“I love it,” Richards said. “When I retire, it’s going to be pretty cool — this is, I think, my seventh. If you’re in Game 7s, you’ve got a chance to win series. … Since I’ve been in New York it’s been, ‘Why can’t they win a series early?’ Well, that’s great. You’d love to do that. It’s a tough league.
“But if you’re playing Game 7s, that means you have chances to win series, and really, it’s hard. We’re one of the only teams to have a chance to go to the conference final two out of three years if we win (Game 7). That’s experiences and situations and moments in our careers that we’ll never forget. Why not play with (the attitude that) nothing’s better, nothing’s more exciting than going to these games?”
The Rangers have come to expect that they will give it their best shot, without expecting an outcome either way. They deal with it.
“We’re excited for the challenge,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “We’re ready to go.”
Series at a glance
Game 1: Rangers 3, Penguins 2, OT
Game 2: Penguins 3, Rangers 0
Game 3: Penguins 2, Rangers 0
Game 4: Penguins 4, Rangers 2
Game 5: Rangers 5, Penguins 1
Game 6: Rangers 3, Penguins 1
Game 7: At Pittsburgh, 7 p.m., Tuesday (NBCSPO)
Photo by Getty Images.