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Rangers have changed since past conference final trip

by Tal Pinchevsky

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- For the second time in three seasons the New York Rangers will play in the Eastern Conference Final. Game 1 of the series will be Saturday in Montreal (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

It's an impressive feat for any team, but there are few similarities between this year's team that will play the Montreal Canadiens and the one eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in six games in the 2012 conference final.

There are 10 players remaining from that 2012 Rangers team: forwards Brian Boyle, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider; defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman; and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Forwards Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller and goaltender Cam Talbot were on the roster during that postseason run but did not dress in the playoffs. Other than goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, New York's entire coaching staff has been overhauled since then.

"It's completely different," McDonagh said. "New coaches and a handful of new players. There are no egos on this team. Not to say there was in 2012, but it just feels like you want to be a part and make a big difference for the guy sitting next to you on the bench. It's tough for a team to find that. We've been able to find it here with this last playoff series. It's taken us a long way."

The personnel may be different, but this year's path to the conference final bears a striking resemblance to the road the Rangers traveled in 2012. As they did two years ago, New York won consecutive seven-game series in the first two rounds. In each season they advanced to the conference final by beating their opponent 2-1 in Game 7.

The similarities mostly end there. Where coach Alain Vigneault distributes ice time fairly evenly throughout his lineup, former coach John Tortorella tended to assign more ice time to his top players. Vigneault also implemented a more up-tempo, offensive game plan compared to Tortorella's conservative approach.

"Different personnel, different style of hockey, a little more experience," Richards said.

"Hopefully that's going to help the hunger, knowing how fine a line it is and how close we were to competing for the Stanley Cup [in 2012]. We realize that and we'll try to take advantage of it. We're in a great situation."

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