The Rangers and Kings split two games during the regular season - with each team winning in the other club’s building - but they haven’t seen each other since Los Angeles’ 1-0 victory at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 17.
New York opened with a five-game Western road trip as final renovations were being made at the Garden. Its only win during that stretch was a 3-1 victory at Los Angeles on Oct. 7 - a 28-save performance by Lundqvist.
“Great goaltending. Great defense. Great forwards. Great special teams,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter provided as a quick scouting report on the Rangers. “We’re up against it again.”
The Rangers know that many, if not most, in the hockey world aren’t giving them much of a chance to win the Cup. They neither mind nor embrace the role of underdog.
They have heard it before, and have just gone about their business.
“When you get into the NHL, you know how hard it is to win,” forward Brad Richards said. “The underdog thing and the favorite thing really doesn’t mean anything in the locker room. You have to go out and play.”
New York needed seven games to get past division rival Philadelphia in the first round. The Rangers weren’t expected to beat Pittsburgh from the start, and certainly not after they fell into a 3-1 series deficit.
Montreal was coming off a stirring seven-game victory over defending Eastern Conference champion Boston, so odds makers favored the Canadiens in their matchup against New York, too.
But here the Rangers are as the last team standing.
“To put it quite simply, we’re up against the team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago that just beat the defending Stanley Cup champions, that without a doubt is battle-tested,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We know exactly what we have to do. If we want to have a chance, we’re going to have to bring our best hockey of the year. It’s as simple as that.
“We’ve had a couple of good practices, we’re going to have another good one tomorrow, and we’re going to be ready come Wednesday.”
He added one more thing as he left the media interview tent while wearing his sandals, to go prepare for a cross-country flight.
“Bring your shorts,” he said.