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Rangers feel Game 7 experience gives them edge

by Dan Rosen /

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers are a close-knit team with a core that has seen a lot and won a lot when the stakes have been high. They're together, all on the same page. You get the picture.

The point is that the Rangers are so harmonized that even when they don't all agree with a concept they return to the same message. That much is true heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Even though some players disagree with how their experience in these winner-take-all situations comes into play, if it gives them a psychological edge on the Lightning, there's no doubt the Rangers at large believe they have an advantage going into Game 7 because they know better than Tampa Bay how to prepare for, play in, and win Game 7s.

No team in recent history has been better in Game 7 or potential elimination games than the Rangers.

"There's a lot of experience in this dressing room and we have a lot of confidence," center Derick Brassard said.

For good reason.

The Rangers have won six consecutive Game 7s, including four at MSG, since 2012. They are 7-0 in Game 7 at home, a streak that dates to 1992. They are 15-3 in games when they have faced elimination since 2012, including 9-1 since last year.

The last time the Rangers played a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final was the 1994 Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils, after Mark Messier's hat trick helped New York win Game 6.

Brassard's hat trick in Game 6 against the Lightning on Tuesday helped the Rangers reach this Game 7.

"We respect every opponent we've played and we're respecting Tampa," said Brassard, who has 13 points in the past 10 games when the Rangers have faced elimination. "They have a really good team. But we're going to play this game [Friday] like it's another game for us. We're just going to go out there and follow our game plan. There's obviously some stuff that we want to adjust in our game that we can do a little better. But at the end of the day we just have to compete harder than them and our will has to be bigger than theirs."

That's an answer everyone in the Rangers dressing room can get on board with because in the past they've shown that they do follow their game plan, make the right adjustments and have a stronger will than their opponents in these win-or-go-home games.

But to center Dominic Moore, what they've done in the past doesn't give them a psychological advantage now. The Rangers have never played Game 7 against the Lightning to go the Stanley Cup Final, so Moore feels the point is moot.

"I think you just try to stay in the moment and prepare as well as you can for the task at hand," Moore said. "What's in the past doesn't help one way or the other."

Center Derek Stepan said he sees things the same way.

"If anything you can draw a little bit of experience to know what the atmosphere is going to be like," he said. "But other than that it comes down to 60 minutes of hockey.

"Both teams are making adjustments and getting themselves ready for one game; winner moves on."

All that makes the concept of a Game 7 arguably the greatest part of professional sports. And when a team has won as often as the Rangers in these spots, they obviously feel they can do it again. The Lightning are believers, too, because they won Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

But they've never won a Game 7 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Nobody has.

In addition, the Rangers will use a lineup of 20 players who have combined to play in 86 Game 7s; the Lightning's expected lineup will have 51.

So, Carl Hagelin, does that give the Rangers an advantage, psychologically or otherwise?

"I hope so," he said. "I think, for us at least, any time you've done something before you definitely feel confident and comfortable in that situation."

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist certainly feels confident and comfortable in Game 7, even if Lundqvist wonders if comfortable is the right word.

"I don't know if I'm comfortable," he said. "I just try to go out and do my job."

He does it better than anybody else in Game 7. Lundqvist can make the case that he's the best Game 7 goalie in NHL history.

He's 6-1 in Game 7, with an NHL-record six straight wins, an 0.97 goals-against average and .966 save percentage. He is tied with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most Game 7 wins in NHL history.

"I don't change anything," Lundqvist said. "You feel a little different because of the emotions you have and the expectation and excitement. But my approach and my preparation doesn't change. I think it helps me, at least under pressure, to do the same thing every time."

He wins every time. Advantage Rangers.

"I think he's the best goalie in the world," Stepan said. "He's played on every big stage and he's been phenomenal on every big stage.

"We've had confidence in [Lundqvist] every time we've touched the ice because we all feel he's the best goalie in the world."

Brassard explained how that confidence manifests itself in Game 7.

"When you know your goalie is going to be there, show up and be big for your team, the defensemen and forwards are going to play better in front of him," he said. "The way he prepares himself and the way he's been walking around [Thursday] you can see that he's on a mission. We're not expecting anything different [Friday]."

The Rangers also feel they have an advantage because they know better than the Lightning what it's like to come so close to your goal only to lose.

Fifteen of the 20 Rangers expected to dress Friday either played in or were around the team for its run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. That experience of losing in five games to the Los Angeles Kings has driven them all season.

"You know you're that close, still didn't win it. And everyone is talking about how hard it is to get back there," Hagelin said. "Now we have a great opportunity to get back there the year after. It's not going to happen to many people and we try to embrace that.

"We wanted to change the ending. That was our slogan for the year and that's our main focus."

The Lightning have a handful of players who know the empty feeling of losing in the Stanley Cup Final.

Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle were part of New York's run last season. Brenden Morrow lost in the Cup Final with the Dallas Stars as a rookie in 2000; he hasn't been back since. Braydon Coburn and Matthew Carle were teammates with the Philadelphia Flyers when they lost in 2010 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Valtteri Filppula won the Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and lost in the Cup Final with them in 2009.

But as a team, the Lightning aren't in the same stratosphere of experience as the Rangers.

The only way to change that is through opportunity. The Lightning have a big one now, but they've also got a lot standing in their way.

Can they beat the Rangers in Game 7? Sure, but they'll have to bust through the Rangers' wall of confidence to do it. Six other teams have tried and failed to do that in a Game 7 against the Rangers.

"We have a lot of great players who have been through this before," Hagelin said. "You can look around the room and know every single player around you is going to play his best game."


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