Just a bit more than 12 hours after concluding their emotionally and physically taxing series against Washington with a 2-1 Game 7 victory at The Garden Saturday night, the Rangers assembled at the MSg Training Center on Sunday to begin preparing for their third-round opponent, the New Jersey Devils.
The team watched film and went over the Devils scouting report, with only a handful of players actually taking part in the optional on-ice practice which followed the meetings. With media attention ratcheting up for the Eastern Conference Finals, team captain Ryan Callahan, alternate captain Brad Richards, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist all held seperate press conferences, as opposed to meeting reporters in the locker room.
"There's a lot of things that makes this series special, I think," said Lundqvist. "Everybody is looking forward to it, and we're very excited that we are there (in the conference finals). We're going to do whatever we can here in order to be at our best."
Head coach John Tortorella emphasized several times in his session with reporters that the Rangers should take some pride in how they've reached the conference finals---winning three elimination games and two Game Sevens in the first two rounds this spring---while also realizing that "we're only halfway there."
"We talk about being one of the four teams playing, (the players) need to embrace that because it's hard to get there," explained Tortorella. "So I want them to embrace that. But I just hope the team is not too interested in getting caught up in all the sideshows as far as Jersey-New York Rangers. I think it's great for the area, don't get me wrong, but we have to concentrate on who we are and what we have to do to win some hockey games."
Callahan met reporters wearing a tee shirt and shorts, with temperatures outside surpassing 80 degress on Sunday. And he smiled when asked if it is different playing when the weather has changed to such a degree.
"This is the best time of the year to play," said Callahan. "You've got the short-sleeved shirt and shorts on, and we're excited to be at this point. We're only halfway there, and we know there's still a lot of road ahead of us, but to be able to play at this time of the year is a good feeling, and it's something you worked hard all year for."
Inside the locker room, players looked refreshed and excited about starting up against the Devils at 8:00 Monday night at The Garden. While most chose to use Sunday as a day off from physical activity, the Rangers professed to not being tired despite having played back-to-back series that went seven games.
Brandon Dubinsky made an appearance in the locker room and spoke with reporters for the first time in more than two weeks. Dubinsky missed the entire series against Washington with an undisclosed injury, and he was stil lwearing a walking boot on his foot Sunday, even though he explained that his injury is healing.
"It's exciting to watch us win and move on to the next round, and it gives me hope and allows me to have something to keep working for, looking forward to coming back and helping this team," said Dubinsky. "It's unfortunate not being able to play, but lucky enough for me the team is winning without me in the lineup. But I think I can still help this team, so it's just a matter of getting back as fast as I can."