NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers were taking the time to appreciate their series-clinching 1-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. But with the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 20 years secured, players and coaches alike acknowledged Thursday that their work was far from done.
"This is a great feeling. It really hasn't hit me yet that we're going to have this opportunity," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said moments after New York advanced. "We've got a couple of days here to soak this in and what we've done. These opportunities don't come easy and they don't come often. We really are focused on trying to seize this opportunity."
The Rangers will have four days to figure out exactly how they plan to do that. For now, they'll have to wait to see whether they'll be game-planning to face the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks, who will meet in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The best-of-7 series is tied 3-3. The winner of that series will host the Rangers in Game 1 of the Final on Wednesday.
With four more wins, the Rangers will bring the Stanley Cup back to New York for the first time since Mark Messier hoisted the trophy in 1994, ending a drought that stretched back to 1940. This year's group is eager to bring the Cup back to New York, which has seen the buzz about the team grow as the Rangers have progressed through the postseason.
"It's a pretty spectacular place to be able to advance, when you have a whole city behind you. We're fully aware of that," center Brian Boyle said. "It's a pretty special feeling. That said, we know what the fans want and we want the same thing. We haven't got it yet."
Since the Cup run in 1994, the closest the Rangers had come to Stanley Cup Final was 2012, when they lost the Eastern Conference Final to the New Jersey Devils in six games. For the 10 players remaining from that 2012 team, this opportunity is especially gratifying.
"I thought in 2012 we had a good run against New Jersey in the conference final. I thought we had a great team then," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "Every year [since], we've been getting past that first round and looking to take the next step. Today is pretty special for us; the guys who were here the longest, but obviously for everybody."
No Ranger would admit to rooting for either Los Angeles or Chicago to advance. In the moments following their Game 6 win, they were more preoccupied with the idea that they were four wins away from fulfilling a lifelong dream.
"I've lifted the Cup many times [in my dreams] when I was younger," forward Mats Zuccarello joked. "So I kind of have a feeling how it feels."
After playing 20 games this spring, the Rangers will enjoy the down time before the Cup Final faces off next week. But they're also looking forward to participating in what, for most of them, will be the biggest moment of their hockey careers.
"We're a really happy group right now, really proud of the way we played," center Derek Stepan said. "I think most guys have a thought in the back of their head that we haven't really done much here."
When asked to share how many times he imagined skating in the Final as a child, Stepan could only smile.
"Too many," he said. "Let's just get there."