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The clock is ticking for the Rangers’ veteran core to win a Stanley Cup

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers makes

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers makes a save in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers won a playoff game Tuesday night, largely on the strength of a long, lovely pass from Ryan McDonagh to Rick Nash, who scored the winning goal, backed by another stellar effort in goal by Henrik Lundqvist, with coach Alain Vigneault calling the shots behind the bench.

None of which would have seemed unusual to a time traveler from 2014, the last time the Rangers encountered the Canadiens in the playoffs — and the last time they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

All three players were on the roster then, as were five others on the ice for Game 4 — Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider — and another, Kevin Klein, who has seen action in the series.

Remarkably, seven of them were around during the 2011-12 season when the Rangers reached the conference final before losing to the Devils.

All of which illustrates one of the subplots of the current attempt to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup since 1940: The core of the team cannot hold together much longer, adding a sense of urgency to the quest.

Much has been made of the similarity between Lundqvist and a Knicks superstar of the 1990s, Patrick Ewing, who was a late spring fixture at the Garden and never won it all.

But the same can be said about this entire Rangers group and the Knicks of the 1990s — a team still much-liked by fans but not remembered in quite the same way as the Knicks of the early 1970s, or the Rangers of 1994.

The trick here is to make that experience work for the Rangers as they scramble to get through a series now tied at two games apiece and headed back to Montreal on Thursday night.

It seemed to help in Game 4, an impressive bounce-back from a tepid effort in Game 3. It was the Rangers’ 85th playoff game since the start of the 2012 postseason — the most in the NHL.

When it was over, Lundqvist was so amped he stood at his locker to speak to reporters, a break from protocol. Most nights, he is so exhausted he sits and speaks softly. Someone asked about the influence of team leaders at a time such as Tuesday.

“It’s important that we say the right things and have the right attitude after losses, after wins,” he said. “Some guys are a little younger and some guys have been through some rounds here over the years. You learn from each other and just try to have a good feeling and a good focus going into every game.

“Sometimes the right things to say can help guys, for sure, but in the end it’s about every single guy doing their own thing to prepare the right way and be focused the right way when the game starts, and I felt we had that focus tonight.”

Lundqvist, Girardi, Nash, Klein and Staal are 30 or older, but there is a good mix of old, young and in between up and down the roster.

Still, time marches on, and let’s just say that that list of 2012 Rangers will be a lot less recognizable by the end of this decade than it is now.

That’s part of the fun of it, though. Rangers fans not only have lived with the ups and downs of 11 playoffs in 12 seasons during the Lundqvist Era, but many of the players have lived it with them.

Girardi played all 10 playoff games in 2007, shortly after 2017 teammate Pavel Buchnevich celebrated his 12th birthday.

After Game 4, the old defenseman said, “I think it says a lot about our club. It’s been well-documented our struggles at home. We were just trying anything to get going and I think we just kind of said, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Words of wisdom.

New York Sports