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Game 7 has been winning proposition for Rangers

by Dan Rosen

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- If Game 7 is becoming old hat to the New York Rangers, winning them isn't.

The Rangers will be looking for their fifth straight Game 7 victory since 2012 when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). It's their sixth Game 7 in their past nine Stanley Cup Playoff series dating back to 2009.

New York previously beat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 on April 30 to advance to play the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round series.

"We have a lot of guys in the room that enjoy the challenge and just the excitement of it," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "I feel like everyone doesn't really feel the pressure of Game 7 because either you play your best or you're going home. You kind of just get to leave it all out there and see what happens. We've had some big moments and big plays at key times in other Game 7s, and that's what it takes."

This is, however, the first time since 1939 that a Rangers team has forced Game 7 by winning Games 5 and 6. New York has never come back to win a best-of-7 series after falling into a 3-1 hole.

Those two factoids are of little consequence to the current Rangers' players and coaches. What matters is the Game 7 experience the players are taking into Pittsburgh.

The 20 players expected to be in the lineup Tuesday are a combined 62-6 in Game 7s, including 6-0 for Brad Richards.

Eight players, including goalie Henrik Lundqvist, have been a part of New York's previous four Game 7 wins. Staal and Brian Boyle have been in three of the four. Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Derek Dorsett and John Moore have played in the past two.

Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore have appeared in five Game 7s each; they are 4-1 in them. Benoit Pouliot has played in four Game 7s; his teams are 3-1. Kevin Klein played his first Game 7 against the Flyers.

"It's like anything, you win a few Game 7s and you kind of relax in them a little more," Richards said. "If you lose three or four over two years you guys [the media] are coming in here and asking, 'Why can't you win in a Game 7?' It's a lot easier to answer the questions and go to bed at night when you know you've won them."

Richards said the experience of winning Game 7s matters more before the game begins.

"I think the biggest thing is when you get a group that's won a few, it's leading up and the anticipation, like [Monday night], just staying loose, getting your rest and being able to sleep to focus on the right things," Richards said. "Those are the hardest parts of Game 7. You just want to get it going. It's about learning how to relax and let it all come to you and be ready mentally. It's not the same when you go to bed the night before Game 7. You're picturing a thousand different things, what ifs, so it's about learning how to get all that out of your head. Once you get in it, it's hockey and everybody gets into that and you're fine, but it's the anticipation."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who is 3-1 in Game 7s as a coach, compared the anticipation and preparation the Rangers are feeling now to what a diligent student might feel the night before a big exam.

"If we had studied and we were ready for our exam, we were confident and we weren't real nervous, or we had some form of nerves that were good," he said. "I think this is the same type of scenario. We've studied. We've prepared. We know what to expect. It's up to us to go on the ice with the right work ethic, the right emotion, the right execution and put our best foot forward."

The Rangers have done that enough in the past to make betting against them now seem like a sucker's wager. The difference, though, is this is the first time they have forced a Game 7 after facing elimination in the previous two games.

Nobody is quite sure how or if that can help them on Tuesday. One thing that is for certain is the Penguins don't care one bit about the Rangers' previous Game 7 success.

Pittsburgh is not only trying to snap a two-game losing streak in this series, but it's trying to snap a two-game losing streak in Game 7s.

The Penguins haven't won a Game 7 since the 2009 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. They haven't been in one since 2011, when they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing at home in Game 7.

"We've gotta realize their desperation is not going to be manufactured now, it's going to be real," Richards said. "Real desperation is always different than when someone knows they have another chance. Now it's both teams [with] levels that are going to be real and desperate."


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