Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The Rangers have spent the week sticking their index fingers in their ears and humming to drown out the friends, relatives, fans, media members and bookmakers who insist on saying they are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Well, OK, they did not literally do that -- at least not that I could see after practice here Tuesday and yesterday.

But they have done so figuratively, insisting that despite all the happy noise around them, they merely are one of 16 candidates, albeit the one that compiled the most points in the regular season.

It is the sort of thing No. 1 seeds say in every sport, but in hockey they actually mean it, simply because it is a harsh fact of NHL life, and something that makes the Cup playoffs at once exhilarating and exasperating.

Let's put it this way: If you had to wager the college fund on a first-round series, which team would you take, the Rangers or Golden State Warriors?

Fans dreaming of a run back to the Cup Final, this time with the Blueshirts closing the deal, have every right to believe, but every obligation to remember how many Presidents' Trophy winners past bombed out early.

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(Speaking of last year's Stanley Cup and Presidents' Trophy winners, the Kings and Bruins . . . well, at least they have extra time this spring to work on their fairway woods.)

When I asked captain Ryan McDonagh about blocking out others' expectations, he said what he had to say: "I think it doesn't matter what you do as far as how you get into the playoffs. You've seen it in years past, one through eight, any team can win the Cup."

(The 2012 Kings won it all; no eighth seed in the NBA has done that, although the '99 Knicks came close.)

What about that Presidents' Trophy thing, Dan Girardi? "It's great that we did that, but everyone's on an even field here."

Let's try Derick Brassard: "Obviously we had a really good year, but if everyone's healthy for Pittsburgh they might be a team up there with us. We don't see it as we're the favorite and they're the underdog."


There is nothing inherently wrong with entering the postseason as the best in one's sport. It worked out fine for the 1986 Giants and Mets, '94 Rangers, '98 Yankees and other teams from other burgs.

But there is no denying it cranks up pressure and expectations, which can become a burden if things start slowly. Add to that the fact the area is starved for a winner given the recent struggles of our baseball, football and basketball teams.

The Rangers lost last year's Final in five games, but three of their losses came in overtime, two in double overtime, illustrating the wacky randomness of hockey.

Despite falling short, that team was rightly hailed for a memorable run. This year, nothing short of a parade will do, for the team and its fans.

Hey, that's life in the big city. Just remember that the odds of it actually happening are, well, don't RSVP your regrets for those June wedding invitations quite yet.

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"Everyone in the playoffs right now believes that they can win," said coach Alain Vigneault, three-time Presidents' Trophy winner and zero-time Stanley Cup winner. "We're not different than anybody else."

They might well be better than everybody else, on paper. But ice is a far more slippery surface than that.