Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

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

There were times Saturday night when the Rangers seemed to forget who they are and how they got here, allowing the inferior Penguins to outhustle them to pucks and to muck up the Blueshirts' usually fast, fluid offense.

The fact that Face of the League Sidney Crosby scored two goals for the visitors, perhaps jump-starting a long-awaited playoff surge, well . . . that's not good.

But all that is over now, because the Rangers face a best-of-five season, with possibly three games on the road, a reality that should focus them -- or else.

That regular season sure was nice, but there is no major sport other than college basketball in which the gap between relevance in the regular season and postseason is as great as it is for pro hockey. (At least in the United States.)

In other words: It's showtime, men.

Before this first-round NHL playoff series, now tied at 1, several Rangers were asked about the long wait from last year's loss in the Final to simply getting another playoff shot.

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Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who usually comes off as the sanest man in the dressing room (including reporters), said marking time is not what life is about.

"You have to start over and really appreciate the journey you take to get there,'' he said. "If you don't do that, it's just a waste of life and a waste of hockey.

"You don't want to just overlook the regular season. That's a great part of what we do.''

The Rangers certainly did not overlook it, finishing with the most points in the league and the most points in franchise history. But that quickly will be forgotten if they bobble this opportunity.

Perhaps you remember the 1994 Rangers, who also finished with the most points in the league. But the 1992 team did the same thing, then lost in the second round . . . to the Penguins.


That series ended in Game 6 at the old Igloo, now long gone. The Penguins play in a shiny new arena these days, where the next two games will be contested, starting Monday night.

Too soon to panic? Yes, but it might not be if Game 3 gets away.

"I think we have a group of guys who are a little frustrated right now,'' Derek Stepan said after Game 2.

One aim will be to shake off the pesky Penguins, who have been taking penalties at an alarming rate without being made to pay for doing so by the Rangers' power play.

"At this point, we don't have any other choice but to let our hockey kind of take over," Stepan said.

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Good idea!

Rangers fans understand the playoffs are a crapshoot and that all this might not end in a parade. But no one will understand if all this ends in Pittsburgh.