If keeping calm is the biggest challenge on a pressure-packed win-or-go-home day, it’s one that the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have taken up with gusto.
The atmosphere in both dressing rooms was one of quiet resolve as the teams prepare to face off in game seven of their first round series on Thursday.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a little mental gamesmanship at work.
“There’s way more pressure on them than there is on us right now,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza, who has three goals in the last two games of the series.
That’s undoubtedly true, given the Rangers have Stanley Cup aspirations and are the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
But the Sens also have high hopes, and despite the relaxed atmosphere, they are feeling the weight of their own expectations.
“There’s pressure on both teams, we both want to win,” said Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who learned on Thursday he is a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman.
Though he dominated scoring among defencemen this season, the flashy Swede hasn’t had much of an impact on the series, the Rangers have largely kept him bottled up.
Not that he much cares.
“If we win then I’m going to be happy with my series, if we don’t I won’t,” he said.
Down the hall, the feeling in the Rangers room was nearly identical to Ottawa’s - deliberate calm ahead of the storm.
“Part of the process is not losing your cool,” said New York centre Brad Richards, a former Conn Smythe trophy winner who has been through seventh games before. “You have to treat it as an opportunity . . . you have to have fun and enjoy it, it’s a great time to be a hockey player.”
The Senators have won 13 of the 17 games they’ve played at Madison Square Garden since 2005, and took two of three earlier in the series, but Richards said his team feels it has a sizable advantage being at home.
“We’re in our comfort zone, we’ve been here for two days,” he said. “I’d rather be here than anywhere else.”
Both teams had injury worries going into the game, but it appears New York captain Ryan Callahan will be ready to go despite a sore hand, and both Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner will be available for Ottawa despite not practicing.