GREENBURGH, N.Y. - There are no absolutes before win-or-go-home Game 7s in the NHL. Those involved have a sense of how things may unfold, but predictions? Nah.
All they can do, using a phrase repeated by several Rangers, is stay in the moment.
When the Blueshirts host the Lightning Friday night at Madison Square Garden in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals, the air of anticipation will be heavier than usual. The Rangers have never lost a Game 7 at home in seven tries.
"Any time you go this deep and you have one game to get a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final, it's a big moment for everyone in this room, and we want to take advantage of it," Marc Staal said after practice Thursday.
Chris Kreider has skated in elimination games, "but not a Game 7 in a conference final. I've got butterflies just thinking about it," he said. "The Cup Final feels pretty far away. Guys are really locked in."
The overarching question is: Can a playoff-tested squad that has talked about returning to the Stanley Cup Final all season prevail against a young, skilled team with a dynamic present and a bright future?
"We haven't shied away from saying that our ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup," said coach Alain Vigneault, who guided the Rangers to the Final last season before losing to the Kings in five games. "We haven't shied away from saying that we know we're going to be judged by our playoff success, but this group is going to be focused on one thing, and that's [Friday night's] game."
Some numbers of note:
Home teams are 94-65 all-time (.591) in Game 7s, including 3-0 this spring. Both the Rangers and Lightning have won a Game 7 on home ice this year.
Forty -- or 25.2 percent -- of the 159 Game 7s have gone to overtime. Home and road teams each have won 20 of them.
The team that scores first is 117-42, including 2-1 this post-season.
The Rangers are 9-1 in their last 10 elimination games.
Henrik Lundqvist has won his last six Game 7s, posting a 0.81 goals-against average, a .973 save percentage and oneshutout. The six consecutive Game 7 wins are an NHL record, and those six wins are tied with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most in NHL history.
Having the proper mindset is key to Lundqvist. "Now it's just on to mental preparation and be positive and believe we can win this game," he said. "You have to believe you can do it. They've been playing really well in our building [4-1, including the regular season]. You have to respect that. Both teams are playing for the same thing. You can feel the excitement in the building, knowing that the season is on the line. We've been there before; they have as well."
Said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, "There's no secret recipe for it. We just try to prepare as best as we can and trust our instincts. Before the game, we're all talking to make sure our emotions are at the right level and you've got that perfect even keel, that we're excited and energetic but focused and calm to be able to make plays."
For Derek Stepan, the best pregame plan is to stick to the norm. "You get to the rink and everything kind of goes on auto-pilot," he said. "You get to the rink and get into your routines, get into your rituals, whatever you do normally, and kind of let that take over."
Preparation aside, it comes down to what happens in the 60 minutes on the ice. "We need to make better plays and have a real smart work ethic," Vigneault said. "I think if we clean up a couple areas and we definitely know we have to bring our A-game, we'll be in good shape."