Letdown by Rangers in a Game 2? What else is new?

Rangers center Derek Stepan faces off against Philadelphia Rangers center Derek Stepan faces off against Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier in the first period of Game 2 during the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, April 20, 2014. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football. ...

What, you thought this series would be easy for the Rangers?

There still is only one way the Rangers play in the playoffs, one path that they take. And it's certainly not the easy way.

The Rangers have been to the postseason eight times in the last nine seasons and have played 69 games in that span, more than every other team in the traditional Eastern Conference except the Penguins, Bruins and this round's opponent, the Flyers.

It's hard to remember the last time these Rangers made things easier on themselves in the playoffs. John Tortorella and his hard-won ways are no longer here, but just about all of his players remain, and though this group has had some Game 7 moments to remember, there are not many Game 2 highlights to cherish.

So went Sunday's Game 2, this time with an early 2-0 lead going by the boards and the Rangers unable to take advantage of a passel of golden chances to regain control after the Flyers, backstopped by backup goaltender Ray Emery, surged into the lead.

"This game can be funny sometimes," coach Alain Vigneault said. "I thought [the second] was our best period. We had some grade-A chances, our power play had some great looks and they scored two and we didn't. That was the game."

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And now it is a remarkable streak of seven straight Game 2s lost, dating to the 2009 postseason, when they coughed up a 3-1 series lead to the Caps to lose in seven games. The Rangers' last Game 2 win was in that series.

The last time the Rangers won a Game 2 on home ice? That storied 1994 spring, when the Rangers evened the Stanley Cup Final with the Canucks in Game 2.

There certainly were reasons for Sunday's turnaround by a Flyers team that looked to be interested only in taking bad penalties or giving the Rangers oodles of room to operate through Game 1 and the first 10 minutes of Game 2.

The Philly defense hung Emery out to dry, backing off the Rangers' forwards to allow the cross-ice passes that had the Garden rollicking and the Flyers perplexed as to why they were so hesitant.

But once the Flyers' defensemen began stepping up on the onrushing Rangers forwards -- and Emery started playing better than he had much of the season -- the Rangers were the ones who sagged.

"Like a lot of playoff games, it's a roller coaster," said Brad Richards, who looked 10 years younger in leading the Game 1 charge but couldn't quarterback the power play as smoothly in Game 2. "Every game is different."

Once the Rangers-Flyers game was finished, 14 games had been played leaguewide this postseason. In five of them, teams rallied from two goals down. This is the new NHL, in which no lead is safe.

And frankly, perhaps the Rangers are at their best when things are tight or uncomfortable. They outplayed the Flyers through much of Game 1 but needed their power play to loosen things up in the third period.

In springs gone by, they needed the adversity of tight series to pull out dramatic Game 7 wins over the Caps each of the last two playoffs and the Senators in 2012. Even with the Rangers the top East seed that year, Game 2 was a disappointment at the Garden all three rounds.

So here the Rangers are -- again -- having given up the advantage. Game 3 Tuesday night will be the 70th playoff game of the Henrik Lundqvist era, and there is one thread that runs through all of them:

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Nothing comes easy around here.

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