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Rangers need their top players to be better in next series against Penguins

Rangers left wing Rick Nash skates against Philadelphia

Rangers left wing Rick Nash skates against Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald during the third period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Rangers' biggest names came up big in Game 7. So did some of the not-so-big names. It is the way this Rangers team is built, it seems, that they are not a product of their stars but more a product of their identity, a team that needs to collectively work hard or else they sag back.

They are moving on to face the Penguins, winning a first-round Game 7 for the third straight season, 2-1, Wednesday nightover the Flyers. Some of the names have changed, but not the work ethic. When they swarm in waves of five-man units, the way they swarmed the Flyers in the deciding second period last night, they seem like world-beaters. It doesn't matter if it's Rick Nash or Daniel Carcillo, Ryan McDonagh or Anton Stralman.

"That's been the strength of this team all year, really," said McDonagh, who played his most forceful game of the series at just the right time. "Different guys step up at different times and we need all of it."

The Rangers needed McDonagh disrupting Flyer rushes in Game 7. They needed Henrik Lundqvist and his 10 third-period saves, most of them after the Flyers cut the Rangers lead in half and shortened the breaths of 18,000 strong at the Garden.

They needed Carcillo -- and in a way, they needed Alain Vigneault and his rather masterful lineup juggling; J.T. Miller acquitted himself well in his two games this series, but Vigneault went with Carcillo's experience and it paid off handsomely.

They certainly needed Nash, who didn't shy away from any hits or pucks in perhaps his best game as a Ranger, period. He still didn't score, and that made him 0-for-30 in shots for the series, but his defining moment may have been a diving shot-block on Mark Streit inside of five minutes to play last night.

"He made some real big defensive plays," Vigneault said, "and that's as important as scoring a goal."

The Rangers needed everyone, as they seemingly have throughout their grinding playoff runs of the past three seasons. It can be a double-edged sword, this all-for-one, one-for-all ethos -- the same reason the Rangers jumped ahead of the Flyers each step of this series cost them a chance to stomp out Philly.

They are a systemic team, one that needs to forecheck and skate and chip pucks and do all the other boring things that make fans roll their eyes and sportswriters reach for story lines.

"We just played simple , nobody tried to do too much," McDonagh said. "It's great to see everybody playing to their strengths."

They will need that and more beginning tomorrow. The Penguins have been a free-wheeling team in the postseason, playing to their strengths: Skill, skill and more skill. Fans on Long Island recall Marc-Andre Fleury's misadventures in the first round last year, plus a defense that had some holes.

The Rangers could exploit Pittsburgh's defense and goaltending. They were strong on the puck all throughout the Flyers series, thwarted primarily by Steve Mason and the Rangers' own special-teams shortcomings.

If they have it in them to beat Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company, they will need more. More from Nash, who must put the puck in the net. More from Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and the woeful power play, which went 0-for-21 to close this first round.

And more from Lundqvist, who must be the best goaltender in the next series by a long way.

More from everyone, in short. It's all for one with this Rangers team, or else it's all for nothing.

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