GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Two days before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Rangers players extolled the virtues of the Los Angeles Kings, and testified to their own resilience, without using the "U" word.
"It's going to take a lot to beat them," said Brad Richards, who won a Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. "They seem to always figure out a way to get back into series, just won a Cup a couple years ago. It's going to be a major challenge."
But coach Alain Vigneault didn't need to be prompted. He played the underdog card.
"I think going into Philly [in the first round]," Vigneault said after practice Monday, "people were probably 50-50 that we would get through that. Going into Pittsburgh, I would probably say that there were a lot more people -- experts -- that were picking Pittsburgh than were picking the Rangers. Going against Montreal, other than a few New York reporters, everybody else across Canada, it was Montreal in four or five.
"So throughout these playoffs -- and it's not going to change now -- we've been the underdog, but what we've done is focused on how we play and what we need to do on the ice."
And though there were no guarantees from Vigneault, who has been to the Cup Final with Vancouver and lost in Game 7, a little defiance emerged.
"Even though a lot of people aren't going to give us any chance, I like our chances," he said. "I like our group, I like our focus, I like the way we compete. I know L.A.'s been there before, I know they've won before, I know they've moved on to three Game 7s, they won them all, they've beaten the Stanley Cup champions, I get that. But we're going to try real hard, I can promise you that."
The Kings beat the Blackhawks, 5-4, in overtime on Sunday for their third straight Game 7 road win; the Rangers ended their conference final Thursday. Vigneault, however, downplayed the fatigue factor.
"At the end of the day, they've played 21 games, we've played 20," he said. "It's a lot of hockey, demanding hockey, physically and emotionally. We might have been a little more condensed at certain times. We've had a couple days here to recover from the demands of the schedule, but at the end of the day, that evens itself out."
To be sure, the Rangers have weathered some storms, especially in the last two series, rebounding from a 3-1 deficit against the Penguins and winning Games 1 and 2 against the Canadiens in a hostile building where they had a history of losses. "Emotionally," Richards said, "we're way past the last series. This is fresh."
Without home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven Final, the Rangers will need to capture at least one game at Staples Center. But the Kings certainly are capable of drawing blood at Madison Square Garden.
"If you ask L.A., they won their three series in Game 7 in the other team's building," Vigneault said. "To make it this far, you've got to be able to play well at home, we've got to be able to play really well on the road."
The Rangers might not need any more motivation -- only a few of them have been to the Final -- but Vigneault will press the buttons whenever he can.
"They [the Kings] are without a doubt battle-tested," he said. "So we know exactly what we have to do. If we want a chance, we're going to have to bring our best hockey of the year, simple as that.
"I think we've known going into the [three] series what people thought. We've really rallied around ourselves and rallied around each player making sure he does his part, rallied around making sure that we go above and beyond."