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Rangers and Kings refuse to fall back on tired excuse

Carl Hagelin, left, and Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden

Carl Hagelin, left, and Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden celebrate after defeating Slovenia, 5-0, during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Credit: Getty Images / Martin Rose

LOS ANGELES - The playoffs already have been a grind for the two Stanley Cup finalists, who had played 41 of a possible 42 playoff games before last night and now are poised to spend up to two weeks commuting back and forth across the continent.

But that only begins to tell the story of what a long, strange trip it has been through 2013-14, which for the Rangers started on a nine-game road swing during the final phase of the Madison Square Garden renovation.

For 13 players in the Final -- seven Rangers and six Kings -- it included a side trip to Russia for the Olympic Games.

And for six of those 13 -- four Rangers and two Kings -- it lasted all the way through the gold-medal game in which Canada topped Sweden.

In other words: These guys are running on fumes. Surprisingly, most of them admitted as much before Game 1. Unsurprisingly, none said it would stop them from being fully engaged in the task at hand.

"You don't feel it right now," said the Rangers' Carl Hagelin, who played for Sweden in Sochi. "There might have been some part during the year where I felt it, but once you're in the playoffs you just go.

"You might be tired here and there but overall the excitement of stepping on the ice and having a chance to play for the Stanley Cup just gets you that adrenaline to play at your best and don't worry about any fatigue."

Still, won't he enjoy this summer's down time even more than usual?

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "The plan is to win four games here and you'll have one hell of a summer."

That is what keeps all of them going, and it helps that there are two extra off days built into the Final, including one between Games 1 and 2.

"At this point fatigue doesn't really kick in; you just ignore it," defenseman Drew Doughty of the Kings and Team Canada said. "The adrenaline kicks in. It's just how bad you want to win. You just ignore the fatigue and go out there and play."

Doughty won his gold medal alongside Kings teammate Jeff Carter and Rangers opponents Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. Hagelin won his silver alongside Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist.

Team USA included the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan and the Kings' Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown.

The other Olympians on the Cup Final teams are the Rangers' Matt Zuccarello (Norway) and the Kings' Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) and Slava Voynov (Russia).

"It's been definitely a long year, with a lot of emotions," said Nash, who missed 17 games last autumn because of a concussion. "For me I was hurt a bit at the start, so hopefully I'll have a little bit more energy than some of these other guys that played all season.

"But I think when you're playing for the Cup in the final series, I don't know how much that will matter."

Stepan didn't play much in Russia for Team USA, but it all adds up.

"I think you kind of get in autopilot a little bit," he said. "Once you get to the Eastern Conference final and the Western Conference final you kind of just build on it and build on it and you almost get to an autopilot situation."

No surprise that the word "pilot" came up twice. The Rangers and Kings have gotten to know more than their fair share of them this season, with several more likely in their near futures.

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