GREENBURGH, N.Y. — No, it’s not the same.
There was a different feeling at the Rangers practice facility as they prepared to open their second-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday. The Rangers are still one of the youngest and least experienced teams in the playoffs, yet something has definitely changed over the past two weeks.
The Rangers didn’t just win their first round series against Pittsburgh; they did it in a way that can permanently change a team. By winning three straight games and eliminating the Penguins in overtime of Game 7, the Rangers have sent a message to the league and themselves that their growing pains are over.
“I think it’s huge,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said when asked about the impact winning the Pittsburgh series had on his team’s psyche. “I really believe those kids playing in the first round and us winning in seven games was huge. There’s a lot of important times in those games where they played really well.
“They gained experience. I think the whole year is the most important experience, but getting a taste of the playoffs and seeing the intensity up a little bit was good for them.”
Rangers 22-year-old defenseman K’Andre Miller said he thinks the way the team played against Pittsburgh should put an end to the talk about the team’s inexperience.
“Yeah, it’s huge,” Miller said when asked what the win does for their psyche. “Obviously experience is something that was talked about with our team a little bit. I think we’ve showed people what we could do and we showed them that [being inexperienced] didn’t really matter at the end of the day.”
Both the Rangers and the Hurricanes got to the second round by winning a Game 7 on their home ice. The Rangers trip to the playoffs, however, was a bit more improbable. The Rangers began the season as a team many thought had a chance to get to the playoffs.
The Hurricanes were a team projected by some in the preseason to get to the Stanley Cup Final. They also had an incredibly impressive regular season, setting franchise records in points (116) and wins (54) en route to the Metropolitan Division crown this season.
Three of those wins came in their four meetings with the Rangers. The playoffs, however, are a whole new animal.
“No, I don’t really think there’s any pressure,” Miller said of team mindset. “Coming off a series against a really good Pittsburgh team with that kind of experience, I think our confidence is where it needs to be right now. Obviously, we’ve shown what we can do all season coming from behind.”
Tyler Motte, whose return from injury late in the Pittsburgh series provided a much needed spark for the Rangers, said it’s important for the Rangers to come out and establish their game early.
"We're confident in our group," said Motte. "Game 1 is going to be a different feel, for sure, but we just got to get to our game early and play our game. I think you saw last series when we were at our best, it's fun to play all through our lines and get everyone involved. When we're able to do that, we're a pretty competitive group."
Though the Pittsburgh series may have given the Rangers a new-found confidence, their coach said he has thought they could win from the moment they got in the playoffs.
“Anyone has a chance to win,” Gallant said. “I truly believe every team has a chance once you start the playoffs and I still believe that. We will have to play well against Carolina, but I truly believe we have a chance to win.”