Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
LOS ANGELES - Brian Boyle smirked a bit the other day when asked, even before his Rangers knew whom they'd be facing Wednesday night, if his team would relish being the underdog in this Stanley Cup Final.
"We need no outside motivation,'' he said rather succinctly.
The Rangers are not in a mood to play games, to try to trick the Kings into thinking that they should have an easy time once the puck drops here in Game 1.
There was a massive amount of game-playing in the Eastern Conference finals, mostly by the Canadiens and mostly after they knew that Carey Price was done for the series with a knee injury.
Alain Vigneault got in his news conference tweaks -- he did predict rather confidently that Price would be in net for Game 2 -- but Michel Therrien tried more mind games and subterfuge than Penn & Teller.
In truth, it was organization-wide. The Post reported that a Canadiens staffer went into the visiting team's press box suite before Game 5 to warn Rangers general manager Glen Sather to dispose of his omnipresent unlit cigar or face a chat with the fire marshal.
There was more, from goals off their moorings for warmups to the constancy of Therrien's Rangers remarks. This is the stuff of the underdog: Keep yapping until someone bites, then try to take advantage.
The Canadiens didn't. They were second best and they knew it. So did the Rangers, who went about their business for all but the mess of Game 5 and clamped down hard on a tired, beaten team in Game 6.
Vigneault played a bit of the underdog card Monday, but only to note how his team has stayed focused.
"We've been the underdog,'' he said, "but what we've done is focus on how we play and what we need to do on the ice.''
Vigneault isn't interested in mind games now, only the real ones. His team may look inferior on paper, but there is a belief among his players.
Belief is a strong thing at this time of year. If everybody's believing in themselves, as the Rangers do, big, bad opponents such as Anze Kopitar and Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goaltenders such as Jonathan Quick don't look as imposing.
And you don't need tricks if you have elite goaltending. Quick has been here before and Henrik Lundqvist has not. That might mean something, but it might mean more to see that Lundqvist has been superb in 18 of the Rangers' 20 playoff games and that Quick has let in 59 goals in his 21 games for a very un-MVP-like 2.86 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
Some barbs or chirps may yet be thrown across the dressing rooms as this series gets started. Marian Gaborik is the only real connection between the teams in their current form -- Boyle started out in the Kings' organization many years ago -- but Gaborik hardly is one to start talking trash.
This Cup will be won on the ice. That may look bad for the Rangers, but don't call them underdogs. It undermines what they've done so far and what they want to do starting Wednesday night.
"You have a 50-50 chance to win it,'' Brad Richards said. "The underdog thing, the favorite thing, it doesn't mean anything in the locker room. You just have to go out and play.''