Rangers' Kaapo Kakko (24), third from left, celebrates his goal...

Rangers' Kaapo Kakko (24), third from left, celebrates his goal with teammates during the third period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J., Thursday, April 20, 2023. The Rangers defeated the Devils 5-1. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

Two games in, the Rangers seemed to have something potentially special cooking this playoff season.

Potentially very, very special, if you catch my large, shiny, historic trophy drift.

Yeah, we know: One shift, one period, one game, one series at a time. Those are hockey coach and player rules, and we respect them. Wink, wink.

But here was something to consider as the Rangers returned home to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series after their back-to-back 5-1 victories over the Devils in Newark:

Efficiency counts this time of year. Which means not playing any longer or harder than necessary en route to the 16 victories required to parade the Stanley Cup.

Forget that stuff about quick playoff series and long layoffs creating rust.

That does happen sometimes, certainly, and there are many examples of every sort of playoff path for Stanley Cup winners.

But long layoffs are a bigger issue in baseball, where players are accustomed to playing every day, and checking and fighting are discouraged.

Hockey is a fast, tough game, and fatigue and injuries both are real issues during the long slog to the Final.

Consider a recent example: the 2021-22 Rangers.

Their playoff journey began with a triple-overtime loss to the Penguins, whom they eventually needed seven games to eliminate.

Then they played the Hurricanes and needed seven games to eliminate them.

Then they played the two-time defending Cup champion Lightning, won the first two games, then lost four in a row — scoring a total of five goals in those games.


When asked Friday whether such things could serve as motivation to close out the Devils in short order, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was not eager to go down that conversational road.

He did say: “We ran out of gas [last year] and we had a lot of injuries that people didn't know about until the summertime, obviously, like Tampa Bay did, too.

“But there were a lot of guys, [Ryan Strome], [Andrew] Copp, those guys had to have surgery to repair stomach issues. And so it was more about running out of personnel. We had a lot of injuries.”

So wouldn’t a four- or five-game series against the Devils be a good way to start things off this spring, if only to avoid injuries?

“We were down 2-0 last year; we were up 2-0 last year,” Gallant said. “You’ve just got to keep playing. You’ve got to take it one period at a time, one game at a time, and you hope for the best.

“If anybody's fortunate enough to win in this series in four games, then you get a week off for the next series to wait. So there's always different options.”

He added: “I mean, I'm happy we're up 2-0, but you’ve got to get ready for the next one. That’s all we’re going to worry about.”

In 2014, the Rangers needed seven games to get past both the Flyers and Penguins, won a tough six-game battle with Montreal, then lost the Final in five to the Kings, with three of the games going to overtime — two to double overtime.

But the Kings were the ones with the better excuse to run out of gas: They won three Game 7s en route to the Final that year, all three on the road.

The Rangers’ two lopsided victories over the Devils in this series had many recalling the famed 1993-94 Rangers, who opened with a sweep of the Islanders in which they had a combined 22-3 scoring advantage.

Then they dispatched the Capitals in five games.

Perhaps those two relatively easy opening series girded them for the seven-game battles to come against the Devils and Canucks.

You know how that season ended.

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