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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Best advice: Don't rely on lucky 7s this time

Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers looks on after surrendering a second-period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, April 18, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Logic suggests that if a hockey team can shorten the long grind of a playoff spring, it can improve its chances of going all the way.

You know: limit fatigue, limit injuries, limit travel and all that.

But that usually is not the way it goes, and so the Rangers found themselves Saturday night facing the prospect of a first-round series against the Penguins that will be not quite as brief as many believed it would be.

Their 4-3 loss at Madison Square Garden left the series tied at one game apiece, with the next two in Pittsburgh.

In other words, here we go again for a team that has played -- and won -- seven-game first-round series each of the previous three seasons.

"It's the Stanley Cup playoffs," said Derek Stepan, who scored the Rangers' first goal, in explaining the home-ice dud. "It's not a very easy thing to do. You don't win every single game and you certainly don't play good all the way through it."

That certainly was true Saturday night for the Rangers, who looked sluggish at times, struggled to generate shots five-on-five, sputtered on the power play and again allowed the Penguins to clog up their usually high-flying offense.

Stepan admitted there is frustration in the dressing room, even though it was only one loss and the Rangers have a long history of Game 2 defeats at home in the playoffs.

But they have enough players who have been through this many times to keep it all in perspective.

"Most guys have played in the playoffs for a lot of years," Henrik Lundqvist said. "You learn something from every playoff every year . . . Obviously, last year we played a lot of hockey, so there were a lot of things to collect."

Earlier in the week, when I asked Lundqvist whether it would be nice to get out of the first round with limited fuss for once and get some rest and relaxation, he smirked and pretty much blew up the premise.

"If you ask me, as long as we win the series, I'm happy; whatever it takes," said Lundqvist, who has a history of Game 7 heroics. "Actually, it's fun to play those games, if you win them, with all that pressure."

Recent Cup winners have proved there are multiple paths to playing deep into June.

Take last year's champs: The Kings last season won three consecutive Game 7s, all on the road, the first of them after trailing three games to none.

Yet they had plenty of energy left to beat the Rangers in five in the Final, winning three times in overtime, two of those in double overtime.

Those Rangers, by the way, had to survive a pair of seven-game series, then a six-gamer, en route to the Final.

In 2012, though, the Kings didn't play any seven-game series en route to the Cup.

In 2011, the Bruins played three seven-game series, but they did get a break with a 4-0 sweep of the Flyers in the second round.

In 1994, the Rangers lost only one game in the first two rounds before their epic seven-game victory over the Devils in the conference finals, followed by another seven against Vancouver.

As Lundqvist said, the idea is to win, not to win in a certain number of games. True, obviously. But it can't hurt to take care of business as quickly as possible.

That is especially true in a first-round series in which the penalty-plagued Penguins appear to think their only path to victory is to color outside the lines of the rules, or at least of niceness.

Stepan's goal came off a lovely pass from J.T. Miller, who earlier in the period appeared to have suffered some dental damage on a high stick from Ian Cole that resulted in a penalty.

So it's a simple formula, really: fewer playoff games, more teeth.

New York Sports