Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The Rangers have two jobs: 1. Win Stanley Cups. 2. Entertain us.
Job One remains incomplete, their latest drought between sips from the Cup now old enough legally to buy its own drink, pending the quest to win five more games this spring.
But before we get to all that tonight -- and perhaps beyond -- let us take a step back to appreciate the Rangers' unqualified, unprecedented recent success in accomplishing Job Two.
In an otherwise mostly dreary decade for New York sports -- outside the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI run -- the Blueshirts consistently have been the best show in town, especially in the playoffs.
Reaching three conference finals and one Cup Final in four years is one thing. Playing seven (!) Game 7s in a four-season span is quite another. The fact that they won the first six? Even better.
By late Friday night, fans will not be thinking about style points. They either will be elated or deflated after the latest Game 7 drama in the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning.
But either way, it will be interesting, as it always is with this group.
This situation has become so common that by the time reporters visited with players after practice Thursday, it was evident that both sides were struggling to come up with something new to ask and answer.
What is there to say anymore, really?
All that matters is 8:15 Friday night, when every Rangers fan will be riveted. That presumably includes the Mets' Matt Harvey, who figures to sneak a peek when he is not on the mound against the Marlins.
Most fans will watch on TV, but thanks to a Presidents' Trophy regular season, a lucky relative few can share in the fun in person. The Rangers hope that helps.
"We worked all year to give ourselves home ice in this situation," captain Ryan McDonagh said Thursday. "We have to utilize that . . . We earned this right to have home ice for this situation."
Said Derick Brassard, "The atmosphere is going to be unreal."
The Rangers' biggest edge is not their fans, though. It's that they have the better goalie. My space and your patience do not permit me to list all the pertinent numbers for Henrik Lundqvist, but here are some:
He has won six consecutive Game 7s, with an 0.81 goals-against average and .973 save percentage in those games. He has won 10 consecutive elimination games at home, with an 0.96 GAA and .968 save percentage.
"You can look at numbers in so many different ways and make them look better than they really are sometimes," he said Thursday. "So the last couple of years, yeah, we had some success, but tomorrow it's not about what we've done in the past. It's what we're doing tomorrow.
"We really need to prove to ourselves that we can pull this one out."
Before speaking, Lundqvist asked for some space and time to collect himself as he sat with his pads on and took a deep breath, perspiring heavily after a practice in which he went as hard as he could.
"Sometimes when you play a lot, we don't practice a lot,'' he said, "and you don't want to get bad habits."
Lundqvist briefly got into some bad habits in allowing six Lightning goals in both Games 2 and 3. But he recalibrated his approach to the Lightning, getting back to his familiar style and comfort zone, and, well, here we are.
"Both teams are playing for the same thing," he said of Game 7. "I think you can feel that excitement in the building as well as a fan, knowing that the season is on the line."
Isn't it always with these guys?