Overcast 37° Good Afternoon
Overcast 37° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Rangers are beat up, but not a beaten team, yet

Benoit Pouliot of the Rangers celebrates his goal

Benoit Pouliot of the Rangers celebrates his goal against Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings with his linemates during the first period of Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 11, 2014. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett

LOS ANGELES - The Rangers left it all on the ice in Game 4.

Now all they have to do is pick it back up -- "it" being the passion, effort, fight, good fortune, superb goaltending and desperation -- and leave it all out on the Staples Center ice Friday night.

Simple, right? Actually, it sounds pretty draining.

Fatigue, injuries and serious emotional swings are all part of the playoffs, especially the Stanley Cup Final. Game 5 will be game No. 107 for some Rangers, so these players have to be worn down.

The Rangers may be beat, but they are not beaten. And when there still is something to play for, the mind takes over from the worn-down body.

"You get to the rink three, four hours before game time, start your preparation and everything just goes away -- pain, fatigue, whatever," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It's tough to put into words. You're grateful all your hard work has brought you this opportunity, to play for a Stanley Cup. That's what the motivation is."

Whatever the motivation, Brad Richards and Dan Girardi both have had a rough Final. Richards said he "couldn't get out of his own way" in Game 2 here Saturday, leading to his Game 4 demotion as the fourth-line left wing.

And Girardi's giveaways, leading to Justin Williams' Game 1 overtime winner and Dustin Brown's Game 4 goal that turned a two-goal Rangers lead into a Kings onslaught, have overshadowed his role as the Rangers' No. 1A defenseman alongside McDonagh.

Girardi leads the Rangers with 76 hits and leads the NHL with 64 blocked shots. He's banged up, not that he'd ever tell anyone.

Every season ends with a litany of a given team's players reciting the injuries they played through. Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski lied about a back injury during Columbus' first-round loss to the Penguins to avoid concussion protocol. The Sharks' Charlie Coyle played with two separated shoulders to the end of San Jose's first-round loss to the Kings.

Those were three rounds ago. The Kings aren't immune, of course, but it might be easier to fight through the battle scars when the Stanley Cup is just 60 or so minutes away.

So the Rangers can do nothing except throw it all on the ice again.

"I think you're digging a little too deep there," Derek Stepan said. "We're in the Stanley Cup Final."

Of all the Rangers playing through pain and fatigue, Stepan might be the one with the biggest uphill battle.

It's been three weeks since Brandon Prust broke Stepan's jaw with a late hit in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. Stepan still hasn't progressed beyond pasta and shredded chicken, along with lots and lots of protein shakes.

"Anything that needs to be chewed isn't really working," he said.

He still scoffed at any notion that the Rangers are tired. "If you can't get yourself up for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final," Stepan said, "that's a problem. And no one in here feels that way."

They are tired, they are beaten up. But they are not beaten. The Rangers have another chance to keep the Cup dream going Friday night, to focus on one night and put all the rest aside.

"You know," Brian Boyle said the other day, "I look at it this way: I always feel pretty fresh and rested when I'm watching the Finals on my couch. This is fun. How could you feel tired?"

New York Sports