By Matt Calamia
The Rangers tonight will take part in their fifth Game 7 since 2009 when they host the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden.
The two teams have traded wins over the first six games of the series, with the Blueshirts losing last night, 5-2, in Philadelphia.
According to head coach Alain Vigneault, whatever has happened over the past 13 days is irrelevant once the puck drops at MSG just after 7 pm.
“Tonight, whatever [has] happened in the past is behind us,” Vigneault told reporters this morning. “One game and it’s winner take all. I think it’s fair to say that whoever’s top players perform the best is probably the team that’s going to win this game. We’ve got some good players. This is a great opportunity. Game 7. It doesn’t get a lot better than this.”
As stated, the Rangers are no strangers to Game 7s. Two years ago they won back-to-back Game 7s against Ottawa and Washington (both at home) and last year, they went into Washington and won the deciding game against the Capitals.
Nine players currently on the Rangers were part of those two Game 7s in 2012, with another five left over from last year’s win in D.C. While he wasn’t in New York, Martin St. Louis has plenty of Game 7 experiences as well, appearing in three Game 7s with Tampa Bay, including in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
“Every series is different. Every year is different” St. Louis said. “I’ve enjoyed the Game 7s and I’ll try and go out there and have fun and help my team win.
“These are the games you pretend to play in when you’re a kid,” St. Louis added. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play in a few of those; they’re fun games to play. It’s exciting.”
While there’s certainly pressure to succeed, St. Louis said the players must balance that pressure and excitement and play smart.
“You need to obviously have a lot of energy channeled in the right direction,” he said. “Mentally, you have to be calm and composed and play your game. Every shift is so important. You have to play with a lot of desperation. I don’t expect anything short of that.”
Several Flyers have said they have the momentum following last night’s win, but Brad Richards said he doesn’t buy that, especially in a series like this where neither team has won in consecutive games.
Richards said the Rangers should have the momentum at the start with the Garden crowd behind them.
“We’d rather be home in Game 7, but that doesn’t mean you win,” Richards said. “You’ve still got to go out and execute … We have a lot of experience and there’s really no need to talk a lot about it. We’ve done it. We know what to do to get prepared.”
At the end of the day, these types of games are what players are remembered for. Also at the end of the day, it’s still a fun experience for the players not only now, but also down the road when their playing days are through.
“There’s going to be some day when this whole team will be retired and sitting back wishing we had another day like this, where you can get ready for a big game in front of a sold out Madison Square Garden in a must-win game,” Richards said. “This is the greatest thing about what we do.”