Just two days removed from an emotional, hard-fought 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals, the New York Rangers will turn their eyes towards the New Jersey Devils for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Once again, it will be a familiar foe sitting on the other bench, except this time it's a division rival, not a playoff team that's had the Rangers' number the past few years.
I've been saying since the start of the playoffs that you don't win the Stanley Cup, you earn it. The Rangers took two huge steps in that category with both Game 7 victories, but this round will be different. It's not just because the two teams hate each other, or that there is so much playoff history between the two teams, it's the fact that the Devils are standing in the way of something special.
Join me after the jump for more.
Why don't we start here: I don't care about seeds in the playoffs. The Ottawa Senators were better than an 8-seed. The Capitals came together in the playoffs and were better than a 7-seed. The Los Angeles Kings are showing the world what they think about the 8 next to their name.
So while the Rangers have home ice advantage, and that's a vital part of the playoffs, I don't want to hear that they've had an "easy road" to the Eastern Conference Finals. They haven't. And now they're playing another damn good team, except this time for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Thats not, however, to say I think the Rangers are overmatched. The Rangers are a team that's become used to adversity. In both series so far, the Rangers have used their resiliency and never-say-die attitude to survive. And although you would have rathered see the Rangers dispatch their opponents in fewer than seven games, the attitude this team has adopted is vital for playoff success.
In the end, you have to be able to have your backs against the wall, one step away from the ledge and still find a way to push back if you want to get to the Cup. A team has to be able to look elimination in the face and still find a way to succeed. It just has to happen.
The Rangers have that in their game. It runs through their veins, you can see it painted on their emotions. Look at Henrik Lundqvist's reaction when he came out of the tunnel after winning the game's first star. They know. They know how close they are to doing something special. They know they've blown the doors off the preseason expectations. They know they're the down-home favorites now.
And you know what? They don't care. They don't feel the pressure. They won't crack under the newly-crafted expectations being heaped on them. They're just trying to get the job done.
That's how they've succeeded all year.