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Season Comes Full Circle Against Kings

By Matt Calamia

It was eight months ago when the Rangers opened up on the west coast, including a stop in Los Angeles, in which the Blueshirts walked away victors after a 3-1 win.

Now, the two teams wrap it all up where it all began.

“We spent like four or five days [out west] at the start of the season; it’s like the circle bringing us two back together here,” Henrik Lundqvist told the media after the Rangers’ second and final practice before heading to Los Angeles Monday in preparation for Game 1 against the Kings Wednesday night at Staples Center.

There have been ups and downs for both teams since that game on Oct. 7, 2013. The Rangers struggled to find their footing under new head coach Alain Vigneault before finding it around Christmas time to finish second in the Metropolitan Division.

The Kings, meanwhile, were one of the NHL’s top teams, but found themselves down 3-0 to San Jose in the opening-round of the playoffs, and 3-2 against Anaheim the following round, only to win two Game 7s on the road. They followed it up with their third Game 7 win Sunday night against Chicago.

The Rangers had the luxury of watching that game from their homes, anxiously awaiting the team whom they’d be facing just days later.

“Just a nervous excitement watching the game,” Marc Staal said. “Excited to find out who you’re going to play. It’s a Game 7 overtime. It’s pretty exciting to watch.”

“I was excited to finally know where you’re going and who your opponent is,” Ryan McDonagh said. “Start getting the mentality, thinking about you you’re going to be playing against, seeing on the ice and the style they play. It was exciting for sure.”

The Rangers received the boost of avoiding a Game 7 of their own by winning Game 6 at Madison Square Garden, six days before the start of the Stanley Cup Final. Los Angeles will have just two days’ rest before the puck drops Wednesday night.

Through three rounds, the Rangers have played 20 games while Los Angeles has played 21, becoming  the first team in NHL history to go the full seven games of the opening three rounds to advance to Final.

With that said, the Rangers aren’t expecting to see a tired team.

“They’ll get their rest,” Brian Boyle said. “It doesn’t really matter. We want them. They’re a good team, so we want to play a good team, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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Vigneault said both J.T. Miller and Cam Talbot will accompany the team when it leaves for Los Angeles Monday. Talbot did not skate in the practice, while Miller skate before, according to Vigneault.

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Vigneault said few are giving his team a chance at beating the Kings in this upcoming Final. But the first-year Rangers bench boss added that’s nothing new. He said his team was only given about a 50 percent chance to beat Philadelphia in the opening-round, and even fewer in the rounds following against Pittsburgh and Montreal.

“Throughout these playoffs — and it’s not going to change now — we’ve been the underdog,” Vigneault told reporters. “But what we’ve done, we focus on how we play and what we need to do, and that’s definitely what we’ll do come Wednesday.”

It’s down to two teams, and the Blueshirts are one of them.

“It’s the last step, Vigneault said. “It’s what going into the season 30 teams strive for. We’ve worked real hard to give ourselves a chance. Right now, for us, to put it quite simply, we’re up against the team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago, that just beat the defending Stanley Cup champions, that are without a doubt a battle-tested [team]. We know exactly what we have to do.”

Jun 2 - 7:03pm
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