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Rangers in unfamiliar spot up two games in series

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers lead the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final heading into Game 3 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Rangers were two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 when they lost to the New Jersey Devils in six games. But when it comes to being up two games in a series, New York is in unfamiliar territory.

It had been five years since the Rangers led a playoff series by two games. Prior to winning Game 2 against Montreal on Monday, New York had lost 13 straight games after taking a series lead.

"It's been a while. We don't pay too much attention to it," Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We haven't won the series yet. Obviously being up 2-0 in the series is great, but we're still only halfway there. We have to put a strong foot forward next game. We're just looking one game ahead the whole time."

The Rangers previously enjoyed a two-game series lead in the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals. Despite New York holding leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the best-of-7 series, Washington won Game 7. The last time New York led by two games and won a series was 2008, against New Jersey in a five-game first-round victory.

Three players remain from those 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams: goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.

"Honestly, it doesn't really change your attitude very much," Staal said of having the 2-0 lead. "Your preparation and what you do day-in and day-out doesn't change. We have just got to focus on our next game, that's what we've done throughout these playoffs. We [won both games] in Montreal, and we have to try to take advantage of that and get one at home here."

Against the Capitals in 2009 was the last Game 7 loss for the Rangers, who have won five of them in a row. Asked about that first round against Washington, Staal seemed to be reminded of how quickly a series can turn.

"We lost in seven, right?" he said. "I remember it."

The Rangers can take a 3-0 series lead for the first time since 2007, when they swept the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round.

"Nothing changes. It's a hockey game and that's how we're going to approach it," Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. "I think it's the same approach you have to bring to every single playoff game. You need a good start and you need to get pucks in deep and play our game."

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