SPORTS

One-goal games have become Rangers' comfort zone throughout playoffs

05/17/2015 04:41 EDT | Updated 05/17/2016 05:59 EDT
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Blowouts aren't the New York Rangers' thing, one way or the other. Neither is breathing room.

Through 13 games of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Rangers have played a one-goal game every single time they've stepped onto the ice.

It took them five one-goal games to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and seven to beat the Washington Capitals in the second. Throw in four winning overtimes and a 2-1 decision against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, and New York is Zen on the razor's edge where the margin of error is almost nothing.

"I think it's just the maturity of our team," winger Rick Nash said Sunday. "It seems that we are confident in our process late in games no matter what the situation is."

Don't expect the Rangers' tendencies to change as the East final continues with Game 2 Monday back at Madison Square Garden. They played in 38 one-goal games over the 82-game regular season, winning 24 of those, so there's a comfort level in these situations.

Nash wasn't sure if there was a psychological benefit of that, but maybe there's a muscle memory that kicks in.

"I just think from playing a lot of them," veteran Martin St. Louis said. "You get better at everything you do if you do it a lot."

Now 9-4 in one-goal games in these playoffs, the Rangers have more than experience to point to for their success. Part of it is the preparation and the game plan set forth by coach Alain Vigneault and his staff, and the other element is sticking to it.

New York prefers to play lower-scoring games, but with the likes of Nash (seven points) and Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard (nine points each), this team can handle a shootout. The Rangers were second in the NHL in five-on-five goals during the season.

"We try to play the right way," Vigneault said. "The right way permits us to make the plays that are needed. Sometimes it's a defensive play, sometimes it's an offensive play."

That's the biggest difficulty for the Lightning, who led the league in scoring at even strength and overall. Tampa Bay would rather take its chances on the rush, but playing the Rangers forces skilled offensive players to worry about the one mistake that can be the difference between winning and losing.

"It's a lot different than regular season," said Lightning centre Tyler Johnson, who leads the playoffs with eight goals. "You don't want to be over-conscious of attacking and forget about defence because defence wins championships."

The Rangers' defence looks championship-calibre, from captain Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle. That blue-line helped hold the Lightning to just 37 even-strength attempted shots in Game 1 Saturday afternoon

Coach Jon Cooper said after watching the tape that Game 1 made him "want to vomit" compared to what he thought as it was transpiring. The Lightning weren't as stride-for-stride with the Rangers as he figured, and that was a product of playoff inexperience.

"(Saturday) was two teams that one team played like they've been there before, and the other team played like they hadn't," Cooper said. "That's why ultimately in the end that's the way the game turned out, and it probably should have turned out that way."

The other reason the Rangers are cool in close games is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has a 1.56 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and the playoff acumen from several runs and last year's trip to the Cup final.

His teammates benefit from that.

"You feel comfortable because he's one of the best in the world," forward J.T. Miller said. "He's so competitive, and he lives for moments like this. That's what he's about."

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