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Resilient Rangers adept at overcoming adversity

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- Challenge the New York Rangers with any type of adversity, any type of style of play, physical or otherwise, and really any type of opponent other than the 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings, and they will not break.

"You can't ever count this group out regardless of what happens," New York captain Ryan McDonagh said.

No one ever should; the Rangers have proven at least that much in two seasons under coach Alain Vigneault.

They are back in the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight season because for a second straight season they found a way to recover from a 3-1 deficit in the second round.

No team in NHL history had ever done that before.

The Rangers completed the comeback Wednesday with a 2-1 overtime victory (their sixth 2-1 win and 14th consecutive one-goal game in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs) against the Washington Capitals in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

They were down 1-0 in the first period on Alex Ovechkin's goal at 12:50, but once again showed the resiliency that has become their calling card since Vigneault took over for John Tortorella after the 2012-13 season.

Rookie Kevin Hayes scored a power-play goal at 6:22 of the second period to tie the game, and center Derek Stepan scored 11:24 into overtime to win it. In between, the Rangers went down a defenseman and were under siege because of the Capitals' aggressive forecheck.

They didn't wilt. They never do.

The Rangers have won six consecutive Game 7s and are 14-3 in games when they can be eliminated since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They are 3-0 in Game 7s and 8-1 in games when they can be eliminated in six playoff rounds under Vigneault.

They will play the Tampa Bay Lighting in the conference final starting with Game 1 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We've been through it," New York defenseman Marc Staal said. "I think it's a testament to what we did all year long. We were very consistent all year long in the way we approached our game and the way we played. I think that carries over. That consistency and effort in the way we want to play doesn't change. When we're down we keep at it and see what happens. We're a good team."

They are, no matter what obstacles are in their way.

Go back to the start of the 2013-14 season, when the Rangers opened with a brutal nine-game road trip in which they went 3-6-0 and looked generally lost. Their response was to rally and reach the playoffs as the second place team out of the Metropolitan Division with 96 points.

They went into Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2014 playoffs after losing Game 6. The response was a 2-1 win behind 26 saves from goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Next came that 3-1 series deficit in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The response was wins in Games 5-7 by a combined 10-3.

"We have a confident team," Staal said. "Definitely we have a lot of players that step up in big moments, that thrive on that. That's what you need when you're in a playoff series."

New York lost Lundqvist for 25 games this season because of a neck injury, from Feb. 4-March 26, right at the time when every team that thinks it's a contender starts its playoff push. That one could have broken the Rangers. Instead they went 18-4-3 with backup Cam Talbot in the net for 23 games and minor-leaguer Mackenzie Skapski in for two.

That's why they won the Presidents' Trophy with a Rangers-record 113 points and 53 wins.

"I think one of the characteristics of our group is that when we have to play our best, we do," center Dominic Moore said. "We've done that, faced challenges throughout the season. Those make you stronger, they build your confidence, and when you're in these situations [in the playoffs], you fall back on those. We were able to do it."

They did it by staying focused, never straying from the calm approach that comes from the top, from Vigneault.

Panic? Has anyone ever seen Vigneault panic? Has anyone seen his Rangers panic?

They were down 3-1 after four games against the Capitals, but they never felt out of the series, never even felt the series was in doubt.

"It was just a matter of winning three in a row," Staal said. "We knew we could beat this team three times in a row. It was just a matter of doing it."

They were less than two minutes from bowing out in Game 5. They believed they'd score. They did.

Chris Kreider tied it with 1:41 remaining in regulation, and McDonagh won it in overtime.

They built a 4-1 lead in Game 6, but were under attack by the Capitals in the third period and gave two of the goals back. They never gave back the third. They won 4-3.

The Rangers were down 1-0 in Game 7 on Ovechkin's goal, tied it, but lost defenseman Dan Boyle to an injury midway through the third period. They were again under siege in overtime; the Capitals had them hemmed into the defensive zone for long stretches.

It didn't shake the Rangers at all. Nothing does.

"I expect this group to win," Vigneault said.

The Lightning will try to change the Rangers' story in the conference final. It'll take a massive effort.

"Every player brings something special to the table," New York left wing Carl Hagelin said. "There are a lot of winners here."


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