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Rangers expect stiff challenge from Kings in Cup Final

by Tal Pinchevsky

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- After waiting for three days, the New York Rangers finally learned Sunday who they will play in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. The Los Angeles Kings advanced by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

Hours away from boarding a flight to Los Angeles for Game 1 Wednesday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), the Rangers took some time to assess their next opponent. And they were not taking them lightly.

"[They're] a team that knows how to win, is very resilient. It's going to take a lot to beat them," forward Brad Richards said. "They seem to always find a way to get back in a series and win a series. They just won a Cup a couple of years ago, so they're a major challenge."

That may be an understatement. The Kings have retained the core of a roster that won the Stanley Cup in 2012. What's more, they've won three Game 7s, all on the road, to get to the Cup Final, including their thrilling OT victory Sunday against the defending champion Blackhawks.

Considering the path the Kings have taken to advance this far, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was quick to declare them the favorite.

"I know L.A. has been there before, I know they've won before, I know they've played in three Game 7s and won them all, and just beat the defending Stanley Cup champions. I get that," Vigneault said after practice Monday. "But we're going to try really hard, I promise you that."

Vigneault made similar statements in the days leading up to the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens. With the Kings in his crosshairs, he stopped short of saying his team relished being the underdog. But he was more than happy to assume that role against a Kings team that opened the playoffs by overcoming a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

"Throughout these playoffs, and it's not going to change now, we've been the underdog," Vigneault said. "But what we've done is focus on how we play and what we need to do on the ice. That's definitely what we're going to do come Wednesday."

The Rangers played their second regular-season game in Los Angeles on Oct. 7 and came away with a 3-1 win. In the almost eight months since then, the Rangers have faced the Kings once. On Nov. 17 the Kings won 1-0 at Madison Square Garden behind 37 saves from Ben Scrivens, who since has been traded to the Edmonton Oilers.

The Rangers don't expect anything that transpired between these teams during the regular season to mean much in the Cup Final.

"I say the same thing every series; it doesn't really matter," Richards said. "Not only do you play different when you get here, the emotional level and confidence once you get to the Final is all different. This is two brand-new teams playing each other that haven't played each other much."

Based on what they've seen the Kings do on their road to the Cup Final, the Rangers have a good idea of what to expect from Los Angeles. As they did through much of the regular season, the Kings found a way to win in the playoffs by imposing a challenging combination of size and speed, along with a mobile defense and some world-class goaltending from Jonathan Quick.

"They're extremely balanced on all four lines," defenseman Marc Staal said. "Obviously they have a lot of guys with a lot of points who have been producing a ton of goals in this run they've had. All the stuff that we've done, as far as defending and being smart with the puck, is going to be big. They're a talented team."

The Rangers remained patient as they waited to see who they would have to compete against to capture the Cup. With Game 1 on the horizon, they're ready to get to L.A.

"You're waiting the last couple of days to see who you're matched up against and that goal goes in and now you get to focus on that one team and get ready for them," Staal said. "It's just exciting."

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