Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
The Rangers really could use a win Saturday, much like every other team in the history of sports that lost the first game of a best-of-seven series.
The actuarial tables are straightforward on this. During the 11-year Henrik Lundqvist Era, the Rangers have won only one of six series in which they fell behind 2-0.
But the fact is, for this team, the truism is truer than ever.
Start with the opponent. A Rangers loss in Game 2 would mean having to win four of five against a Penguins team that has won 15 of its last 17 games and last lost two in a row in regulation time on Dec. 18 and 19.
Oh, and two Penguins stars who did not play in Game 1 are inching closer to a return. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who last played March 31, and center Evgeni Malkin, who last played March 11, practiced Friday and are listed as day-to-day.
Finally, there is the state of the Rangers themselves, a team that was hard to figure during the regular season and about which the air might be starting to leak out of the balloon after years of draining playoff runs.
Complicating things are the absence of their only 2015-16 All-Star, captain Ryan McDonagh, and the blurry status of Lundqvist, who sported a discolored right eye area Friday in the wake of a poke from the stick of Marc Staal in Game 1.
One defenseman, Brady Skjei, made his playoff debut in Game 1. Another, Dylan McIlrath, is expected to make his in Game 2.
All we know for certain is that the Rangers know the postseason drill, and that they fully understand the stakes.
“For sure, we have a window,” said Rick Nash, who will turn 32 around the time the Stanley Cup is presented. “You always find that when you have a team that is getting older and guys in the prime of their career.
“We all know that now is the time to win and we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to produce. So it’s definitely something we talk about.”
The drama on both sides has made this the marquee matchup of the first round. The Canadian media — without a playoff team to call its own — has descended upon Pittsburgh, and NBC slotted Game 2 for its national showcase.
It is likely that Game 5 will get the same treatment next Saturday — if there is a Game 5. The Rangers just have to hold up their end by making it a competitive series, which will require more than what they did Wednesday night.
“We’re going to need our top-end players to play big,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s time to make a difference here . . . There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we’re going to need to be better.”
Many Rangers took advantage of the extra day off Thursday to attend the Tigers-Pirates game at PNC Park. They would rather have gotten back on the ice sooner. No sense putting off what must be done.
“We’ve played in some really big games the last few years and this group knows how to respond after a big loss,” Derick Brassard said. “The only bad part about this one is we had two days between games. It’s good for rest, but at the same time, I think guys are pretty anxious to play.
“Everyone is pretty excited . . . We’re looking forward to playing a better game and improve our play and I’m pretty sure if we do that, we’ll have a good chance to win.”
If not, there will be another extra-long break to ponder their predicament before Game 3 Tuesday night.