NEW YORK, N.Y. – Forget about all of those two-day breaks in the first round of the post-season. The New York Rangers have suddenly become the busiest team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Not that the Broadway Blueshirts are complaining. They were all smiles—and full of relief—after outlasting the Philadelphia Flyers in a tight Game 7 victory that capped the tense opening-round series.
To advance to the second round and a meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers had to endure a stretch of the final three games being played in a span of four days. New York won two of those, including its 2-1 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
With little time to celebrate, the Rangers quickly shifted their attention to the Penguins and boarded a flight to Pittsburgh on Thursday in advance of the series opener on Friday. If that rush wasn’t bad enough, the Rangers and Penguins will play the first three games of the series in four days, including back-to-backs for Games 2 and 3 in different cities on Sunday and Monday.
That means the Rangers will play six games in nine days. Hardly the recipe for success, and quite a shift after New York had its first four games against Philadelphia spread over nine days with a pair of two-day breaks between contests.
“I’m going to enjoy this, and (Thursday) it’s important to relax and get the body ready for the next round,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “Mentally and physically we have to recharge. Now the preparations start all over again.”
Judging by the Rangers’ recent history, they are headed toward another long series against their second straight Metropolitan Division rival. While New York edged Philadelphia by two points in the regular season to earn home-ice advantage in the first round, the Rangers finished 13 points behind the division-winning Penguins.
“It’ll be a quick exhale, then off to Pittsburgh,” forward Brad Richards said. “That’s the playoffs. You don’t dwell on losses and you don’t cherish wins. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In the last three years, the Rangers have won four Game 7s. They are the only team in the Eastern Conference to reach the second round in the past three seasons, but they are still searching for their first Stanley Cup championship since 1994.
“Seven games or five games, teams are so close now,” Richards said. “The (Flyers) are a good team, they played us hard, and it took seven. It doesn’t really matter.”
The Rangers and their opponents are the only teams scheduled for back-to-back games in the first two rounds. New York has it in both rounds, largely because of television and arena availability.
“It’s a lot of hockey for both teams,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday. “I don’t think it’s advantage-disadvantage. I didn’t look at it other than to know we’re going to get on a plane some time (Sunday) night and get to Game 3 on the road in New York.”
The Rangers have lost all four previous series versus Pittsburgh. The Penguins advanced to the second-round with a six-game victory over the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We’re battle-tested and we’re ready for the next series,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “If you look on paper, Pittsburgh’s probably one of the best teams in the league. They were ahead of us in the regular season, so we’re going to have our hands full there.”