Rangers know Los Angeles will be tough Cup test
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The Rangers had their poison picked for them Sunday night.
Several players and coach Alain Vigneault trotted out the "either one can kill ya" sentiment Sunday when, after two much-needed days off, the Rangers practiced to begin preparing for the Stanley Cup Final -- without knowing whether they would face the arsenic of the Los Angeles Kings or the hemlock of the Chicago Blackhawks.
If the Rangers stayed up late Sunday night, they learned they will meet the Kings in the Final. In Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, visiting Los Angeles beat the Blackhawks, 5-4, in overtime.
Game 1 of the Final is at Staples Center on Wednesday night, with Game 2 there Saturday night. And now the Rangers need to find the antidote for the Kings.
"You know what you're going to get," said Brad Richards, who has tasted bitterness in the playoffs. "They both have a lot of experience in winning over the last three or four years . . . They've both been down and out and keep playing right to the end.
"People have been taking notes on those two franchises for the last three or four years. It's a great challenge. We can learn a lot from both their runs. Down 3-0 and 3-1, they're never out of it, and that's a testament to their locker rooms and their coaches.''
The Kings, who won the Cup in 2012, were down 3-0 to the Sharks in the first round and 3-2 to the Ducks in the second round this year and responded. They also trailed 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 in Game 7 against the Blackhawks.
Vigneault, before he knew he would be facing the Kings, said: "They're both battle-tested. They've both played on the big stage, they've both won, different styles. L.A.'s a little bit bigger, but they both have a puck-possession game that makes it hard for you to get it back."
Vigneault, who took the Vancouver Canucks to Game 7 of the Final in 2011 but lost to the Bruins, spent seven seasons in the Western Conference, so he is familiar with Los Angeles. He said that having been through a Final, he has learned some lessons. "Experience is a hard thing to get,'' he said. "I've already shared with management and coaches the logistics side of what needs to happen; it's now time to help the players. I've got a pretty good idea of what's coming. We have to remember what got us here and play our game, although there's going to be attention paid on opposition."
Under coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings, who finished the regular season sixth in the West at 46-28-8, were 23-14-4 at home and on the road. In the playoffs, they eliminated the Sharks (111 points), Ducks (116) and Blackhawks (107), each time in a Game 7 on the road.
The only previous time the Rangers faced the Kings in the postseason was in 1981, in what then was termed the preliminary round. In Game 2 of that series, a bench-clearing brawl ended the first period and resulted in 200 minutes in penalties. The Rangers advanced, winning three of four games.
Essentially, Vigneault wants the Rangers to mirror the pace of their Game 6 performance, which he termed "our best game of the playoffs. That's the kind of hockey we're going to have to play. It was 1-0, but offensively we got some unreal looks. He [Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski] was phenomenal."
Players said they would watch Sunday night's Game 7. "I think you're looking for different things," Rick Nash said. "Goalie tendencies, what the d-men do, how they play one-on-ones. And as a fan, too, the hockey's been great the last couple games."