(Photo: Scott Levy/MSG)

The last time the New York Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final, they came out of the 7-game series against the Vancouver Canucks victorious.

Of course, that was 20 years ago.

Now, for the first time since 1994, the Rangers are four wins away from bringing the Cup back to Rangerstown, USA.  They’ll face 2012’s Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in a best-of-7, East Coast vs. West Coast showdown, beginning tomorrow in LA.  Today, however, was a day for fielding questions and comments from the media.

The 2014 Stanley Cup Final Media Day, held in sunny California, highlighted this year’s ups-and-downs for the Rangers as well as their current team chemistry going into Game 1.  This season, the Rangers got a new head coach in Alain Vigneault (previous coach of the Vancouver Canucks) and lost their captain, RW Ryan Callahan, in a deadline trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning for RW Martin St. Louis.  And though no one player currently wears the “C” for the Rangers, this team has rallied under leadership from several different players on and off the ice:

[The veteran group’s] presence, their leadership abilities, their approachability…it’s very easy as a young guy to show up to the rink every day and to be excited, not only to play hockey but to learn from those guys,” says LW Chris Krieder.  “You learn so much from the entire group, even the other younger guys, you can take so much from them.  It’s hard to really pinpoint one guy…It’s been a group effort all season.”

LW Daniel Carcillo, whose 10-game suspension has now been reduced to 6 games, adds that Vigneault also brings strong leadership as well as a “cool head and calm demeanor” to the team: “He’s just so calm no matter what stage of the game…when you see a coach like [Vigneault], it’s just kind of contagious.”

Vigneault, who brought the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, knows what his team needs to do in preparation for the Kings: “We know we have to play a certain way.  There’s a couple of areas that we think we can do real well on the ice.  That’s what we’re going to try and start doing tomorrow.”

“Great thing about the playoffs is you watch the other games, and all our players had an opportunity to watch the Kings throughout these playoffs–their comeback against San Jose, their tough series against Anaheim, and obviously the last one against the Stanley Cup champions [Chicago Blackhawks],” he says.  “Our players got a real good idea of what’s coming up here as far as the challenge.  We know they have balance on their four lines.  Doughty is probably one if not the best defenseman in the NHL, and they’ve got one of the best goaltenders.  We got our hands full and we’re ready for it.”

It’s going to take 20-something guys that want to make a difference,” Martin St. Louis adds.  “Everybody’s got to elevate their game another notch.”

And amidst all the strategy and game tape reviewing, there’s also the excitement and experience of competing in the Stanley Cup Final itself.

“We’re fortunate to be here,” says Rangers GM Glen Sather.  “Anyone’s fortunate to be in this position.  It’s not every team that gets a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.”

Kreider, who has been to two national championships with Boston College, says that while winning is certainly the main focus, “[The championship experience] goes by quickly…it’s a lot more special when you’re winning so that’s definitely something we’re focusing on, but at the same time…just have fun with it and cherish the moments.”

What’s the best part of playing in the playoffs?

The energy in the games,” says C J.T. Miller.  “At the end of the day, [both remaining teams] know why we’re getting up in the morning.”

And though there are still countless decisions to be made and questions to be answered about the team’s future (Will Brad Richards be resigned over the summer?  What about the other RFA/FAs?  Who will be captain for the 2014-15 season?), for the next two weeks, the focus will be entirely on becoming the next team to have their names carved into 35 pounds of sterling silver.

Because It’s The Cup.

Stephanie is currently a student at Roger Williams University and is working toward a BFA in Creative Writing and Film. She is hoping to pursue a master's degree in Sports Journalism after graduating. Stephanie is a former basketball player and now enjoys writing from the sidelines (though she wouldn't be opposed to watching from a press box). She quite literally turned into a full-fledged hockey fan overnight, and she is the lone Rangers/Blackhawks fan in a family of hardcore Bruins fans. During the offseason, she enjoys writing, film, traveling, and theatre. Twitter: @stephanielynn_

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