There is a resiliency in the New York Rangers that is quite admirable, but there also is a streak of realism.
After finishing fourth in the Patrick Division, they survived a fifth game against the Philadelphia Flyers in NHL playoff round one and came back from losing two of the first three against the Washington Capitals in round two. But now they are down 3-0 in the best-of-seven Prince of Wales Conference final series against Montreal after outplaying the Canadiens only to lose, 4-3, in overtime Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Montreal, which never led in the game until Claude Lemieux scored on a breakaway at 9:41 of overtime, can advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the 29th time with a win in New York Wednesday night.
"If we played tonight, Montreal might have an easy time of it," said Rangers forward Pierre Larouche as disappointment lingered over today's practice session. "But they won't tomorrow Wednesday . They'll have to earn it. The kid goalie Patrick Roy, who stopped 44 of 47 shots Monday will have to play like that again if they want to close the book on us."
Larouche, the former Canadien who had seen many Montreal teams win games in which they were outplayed, thinks the Rangers will win Wednesday.
"I'd be disappointed if we didn't go back," Larouche said of a possible fifth game in Montreal. "I don't think we deserve to get beat four straight."
If there is any so-called magic left in the Rangers, it had best materialize promptly. If Roy, the 20-year-old goalie who was nothing short of spectacular, plays as well as he did Monday, the Rangers can start watching their videotapes from the Capitals series.
"There isn't much we'd want to do differently," said Brian MacLellan, whose penalty with 3:56 to go in the third period led to Bobby Smith's tying goal for Montreal with 2:04 left. "It's more execution, we've just got to score the goals. Roy's playing well but we've got to get to him. We're not getting any cheap goals. All three were well-earned, but usually you get one or two cheap ones."
The Rangers held a 47-29 lead in shots, and that figure included Montreal's 15-6 margin in the second period. In the third period and overtime, New York outshot Montreal by 25-7. But, except for Bob Brooke's goal that gave New York a 3-2 lead, Roy shut the door time and time again.
"From a coach's point of view," Rangers Coach Ted Sator said, "you can't ask a team to play any harder than the Rangers did. What you're looking for in the playoffs is effort, and that's been there from the beginning. You can't guarantee results."
John Vanbiesbrouck allowed a low-angle pass/shot by Stephane Richer to deflect off his skate for the first Montreal goal. Aside from that, the Canadiens' goals came on breakaways or a power play.
"The magic number to beat Montreal," Sator said, "is four goals a game, and, to date, we haven't gotten that."
The Rangers maintain that the Canadiens' winning goal would have been much tougher to come by if defenseman James Patrick had not been impeded by linesman Ray Scapinello, who was a bit closer to the center ice circle than a linesman normally would be.
That became an issue after a puck heading toward New York's Willie Huber at the point hopped over his stick, setting up the two-on-none break, with Mike McPhee and Lemieux. That play, along with the couple of shots that hit posts, would seem to indicate a departure of some Rangers luck.
"It appeared that way last night," captain Don Maloney said. "The puck skipped over Willie's stick and James ran into the linesman. We just have to keep playing hard and hope fate swings our way."