Twenty years without a championship is a long time for hungry Ranger fans.

"Oh, God! I live and die by this team, and this has been a long time coming," said Kari Castro, 56, a season-ticket holder from Jackson Heights.

Castro said she and her family jumped up and down when the Rangers topped the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Thursday to make it to the finals for the first time since winning the cup in 1994.

The Rangers will either play the Los Angeles Kings in the Final. The Kings topped the Blackhawks with an OT goal Sunday night.

Anticipation for the upcoming series has pushed the passion for the Blueshirts to new levels, according to Jonathan Ragus, the founder and president of the Ranger Nation blog. New Yorkers, he said, love seeing an underdog defy the odds and go the distance.

"To be able to suffer through all of these years and be so loyal and to see them get to the championship, it is huge," Ragus said.

The Rangers have had a bumpy and emotional road to get to this point. After a grueling seven-game series against Philadelphia, they overcame a 3 to 1 deficit to beat Pittsburgh.

It was during that series that the mother of Rangers star Martin St. Louis died of a heart attack at age 63.

"When Marty St. Louis's mother died -- that gave them a push," said Ragus, adding it provided them a meaningful reason to play their hearts out.

Several Rangers players expressed how the tragedy brought the team closer.

"Obviously, we've had some obstacles individually and as a team -- Marty's mother passing away was something we rallied around," Rangers forward Dominic Moore said, according to Newsday.

Joel Barsky, 51, of the Upper West Side, who was celebrating with fans at a Rangers event in Madison Square Garden Sunday, said St. Louis has been an inspiration and his perseverance made this year's playoffs more emotional.

"You have that expectation that they are going to win, because no matter what, they don't give up," he said.

Although this isn't the Rangers' biggest gap between championships -- the team went 54 years before they won their fourth championship in 1994, Ragus said the team has been fighting for the city's sports bragging rights.

Ragus predicted that if they win the Cup, you will see a major explosion in popularity for both the team and the sport.

"We saw it back in '93 to '94. It certainly got a lot of media attention. When they went into the playoffs, it created a lot of new fans."

Scores of Blueshirt devotees spent Sunday at Madison Square Garden boosting their energy with games, face painting and other events.

"It's a good run," said Anthony Ciccone, 27, of Staten Island, who came to the event with his three friends. "They came back when everyone tried to put them down."

Maria Eisenberg, of Teaneck, N.J., who attended the fan fest Sunday with her family, agreed.

"The fact they got this far is amazing. I like their teamwork and how they all pull together," she said.

-- (with Sheila Anne Feeney)

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Rangers, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns amNewYork.