Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
MONTREAL - One member of the Rangers braintrust was discussing his team's mental makeup early on in the Pittsburgh series a couple of weeks back, early enough in that series that the Rangers' ability to handle adversity was still a new topic.
"You see a lot of NHL defensemen who have that ability to stay even -- not too high, not too low," he said. "We have a lot of guys, not just defensemen, who can do that."
It starts with Henrik Lundqvist, of course. There is no Eastern Conference finals, no 2-0 series lead over the Canadiens, without the Rangers' rock in net. Let's get that clear. We could spend every bit of ink from front to back of this paper, use up just about every web page we have and still not say enough about the guy who was "phenomenal," in Canadiens coach Michel Therrien's words.
But there is a feeling in that Rangers room, one that may not have been there two years ago when the Rangers were in this same stage of the postseason but unable to put away the pesky, talented Devils.
This is a Rangers team with the right voices speaking up at the right times. Monday night, they were looking for a push-back after the Canadiens gave the Rangers everything they had.
They got a lucky bounce, Ryan McDonagh's shot off Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges and in, to counter the Canadiens' lucky goal 17 seconds earlier. But then it was the same formula the Rangers used to dig out of that 3-1 hole to the Penguins.
Collapse. Commit. Regroup after Lundqvist made a big save, or two, or 12. And charge off the other way to stick it to the opponent that was growing increasingly frustrated by Lundqvist at his best and a series of five-man units keeping the Canadiens away from the dangerous areas and counterattacking with speed.
"We've definitely had our ups and downs, but the key is not to get hurt and I think that is the big thing for us," Lundqvist said. "Last couple games we'd go through a stretch where things are going against us, we'd come together and try to keep it really simple and don't get hurt. Then when we have a good stretch, you try to really cash in."
They have trailed for a grand total of 17 seconds in these last five games, the three wins to rally past the Penguins and the first two wins this series -- and it's worth mentioning that the absurd 13-game playoff losing streak when leading a series is now history, as is eight consecutive Game 2 losses.
"We've got some good leaders on our team that have been through battles and been through wars, and they keep our team well composed," Alain Vigneault said.
It may be as simple as substituting Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan and bringing another Cup-winner into the room. St. Louis and Brad Richards have had their hiccups on the ice at times, but it appears neither has made a wrong move inside the locker room since St. Louis' arrival.
There may be some simple explanations beyond just letting Lundqvist make the big save and going down the other end to score. They couldn't do it for the entire Flyers series, when they stopped themselves often, and then they couldn't do much right for three games against the Penguins and seemed headed for a long summer.
In the space of 10 days, the Rangers have become a machine. They are playing like winners, unfazed by just about anything that's come their way.