GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Alain Vigneault sat comfortably inside a media tent outside the New York Rangers suburban practice facility after a good on-ice team workout.
He still didn’t know then who he would be coaching against in the Stanley Cup Final, but he didn’t seem overly concerned about the uncertainty, either, on Sunday.
Hours later the mystery ended when the Los Angeles Kings claimed the Western Conference title with a 5-4 road overtime victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who nearly erased a 3-1 series deficit.
The Kings are no stranger to Vigneault, who is in his first season behind the Rangers bench. Los Angeles eliminated Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks in the first round in 2012 en route to winning the Stanley Cup for the only time in franchise history.
The Kings are making their third trip to the finals.
New York went 1-1 against Los Angeles in the regular season.
“We have to remember what got us here, and play to our strengths and play our game,” Vigneault said.
The Rangers returned to practice Sunday after having two days off following their stirring 1-0 win over Montreal at home on Thursday in Game 6.
After winning each of the first two rounds in seven games, New York was happy not to have to make a return trip up north for another winner-take-all contest.
“It helps when you can wrap a series – not just physically, but mentally,” said 38-year-old forward Martin St. Louis, one of only a handful of Rangers with previous finals experience. “To play Game 7s, they’re fun but they’re stressful. I am glad we didn’t have to do that with Montreal.”
As good as it was to rest their weary bodies after 20 postseason games, getting a mental break was every bit as important this deep into the grind.
Even though New York was the first to claim a spot in the finals, many have written off the Rangers as underdogs against L.A.
“I feel like when you get to the Stanley Cup (Final), you have a 50-50 chance of winning,” Richards said. “It’s the way I’ve seen it my whole career.”