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Rangers not scared by close encounters in NHL playoffs

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Veterans like Rangers' Martin St. Louis are hardly intimidated by close games in the playoffs.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Veterans like Rangers’ Martin St. Louis are hardly intimidated by close games in the playoffs.

It may drive their fans mad, but the Rangers have grown so accustomed to playoff games hanging in the balance until the final horn that they seem to thrive under such duress.

With their 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, the Rangers extended their NHL record of consecutive one-goal playoff games to 15, which dates back to Game 4 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final.

“Challenging as a coach,” Alain Vig-neault said smirking Saturday night after the win when asked about his team being comfortable in tight situations.

Vigneault’s able to joke about it since the Rangers won so many of those games and are now in the midst of their second straight deep playoff run. As stressful as it may seem to coach in those scenarios, Vigneault never appears to waver, and his demeanor is part of the reason his players are able to remain composed despite every playoff game going down to the wire.

“He’s a calm guy, for sure,” Henrik Lund-qvist said after Sunday’s practice at Madison Square Garden ahead of Monday’s Game 2. “Never really raises his voice in here. He’s very steady the way he approaches us and the game, and I think that it helps the team to stay the course and keep the focus where it should be. The whole coaching staff has done a good job of that, of just keeping their cool.”

Martin St. Louis feels the comfort in those tight games comes from experience, and Vigneault being even-keeled sets the tone for everyone else.

“I think it starts at the top,” St. Louis said. “If we have a bad game we usually come back strong. If we play real well we try not to get too high. We’ve had a good understanding of where our game is whether we win or lose and I think that’s the most important thing. I think that’s the only way to get better.”

Vigneault’s counterpart this series, Jon Cooper, boasts a young team with many players who haven’t played this deep into the postseason. His group isn’t quite acclimated yet to the grander stage, as evidenced in Game 1. Vigneault’s Rangers have the experience of a four-series grind in their back pocket.

“One team played like they’ve been there before, and the other team played like they hadn’t,” Cooper said Sunday.

Cooper says there are times where he can watch tape after what he thought was a poor game and realize it wasn’t as bad as he initially believed. Game 1 was the opposite.

“There’s the times that you think you played OK and you watch the tape and you want to vomit, and that was a little bit how last night went,” he said.

“We just kept stubbing our toe all night,” Cooper added. “So we were just handing them tickets to the movie, and we were a turnstile and watching them go by. We can’t do that.”

That came from a lack of puck possession, which Cooper said is why they’ve gotten this far and is crucial if Tampa has any hope of limiting the Rangers’ four-man game with their defensemen joining the rush. “If we’re not going to do that, it’s going to be a long night, short series,” he said.

The Rangers winning a short series would be a surprise, of course, since seven of their eight series wins since the start of the 2012 playoffs have gone at least six games. No matter how long it takes, the players trust Vigneault steering the ship, believing in his system and guidance.

“Obviously with last year’s experience, coming up short, we want to make sure we’re as prepared and as focused as we can,” Ryan McDonagh said, “because you might not get another opportunity like this, another deep run in the playoffs.”

Tanner Glass (maintenance) missed practice but likely will play Monday.

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