Maybe it was the hubris an athlete must possess in order to be successful at the highest level of his sport.
Maybe it the unshakable belief an athlete has in a team that finished the regular season with an Eastern Conference-best 51 wins and 109 points.
Or maybe it was simply a case of an athlete spitting into the wind.
“It’s pretty evident that we’re clicking on all cylinders,” New York Rangers center Mike Rupp said following his team’s abbreviated practice Tuesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in preparation for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Rangers are tied with the New Jersey Devils at two games apiece in the now best-of-three series. The Devils won a nasty Game 4, 4-1, Monday night at the Prudential Center. Game 5 is at the Garden Wednesday night.
“We’re focused on a three-game series and we’ve got two of those games at home. So we’re confident in that. We faced that the first two rounds. So we’re going to go at [it] the same way,” Rupp said. “We just have to get to our game. We play a particular way and we have that swagger to our game.”
Which had not been apparent during the first four games. New Jersey has outplayed the Rangers for 190 of the series’ 240 minutes, holding a 114-104 advantage in shots.
Yet the teams are deadlocked because Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been the best player on the ice in the series. Lundqvist has two shutouts in the four games along with a .947 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.50.
“We felt we could score. I know we scored during the season against him. He’s a very good goalie and they defend very well. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I don’t think there was any point where we didn’t feel we could score,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
New Jersey scored three goals against Lundqvist in Games 2 and 4. Zach Parise added an empty-net goal with 1:29 left in Monday night with New York trailing by two goals.
Lundqvist routinely spoke of finding a mental balance throughout the regular season, a point he echoed once again Tuesday.
“You get more and more excited each game and you know you’re getting closer to where you want to be. But at the same time there’s a lot of work ahead of us,” Lundqvist said. “My approach doesn’t change. I try to go into every game the same way.
“You want to try to get a balance there where you don’t get too high or too low between games or during the game,” Lundqvist continued. “You have to approach it the same way. You make concessions there. Of course you feel the pressure, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself. You see it as very challenging, a great opportunity in regards to the pressure.”
The goaltender may not put any additional pressure upon himself during this playoff run. It would greatly aid his cause if his teammates would begin to pressure the Devils in the same fashion that New Jersey has pressured the Rangers in the first four games.
Lundqvist’s counterpart, Martin Brodeur, has not been as consistently busy as the Rangers’ netminder but he has been very strong. Brodeur has a 1.75 GAA and .931 save percentage, including highlight-reel thefts on Marian Gaborik in Game 2 and Ryan Callahan in Game 3. The reason Brodeur has not had stress-intensive nights in the series is due to his team having jumped out to strong starts against an unusually passive Rangers squad.
“We have to concentrate on our start. That’s a big thing for us the whole series," Callahan said. "I don’t think we started games well. We’ve addressed that and we’ve realized that we need to be better at the beginning of the game. Especially the way they come out, how hard they come at you. That’s something we need to be better with.
“It has to do with them coming hard at us, we have to control that. Getting on our forecheck, that’s where we’re successful. We need to keep rolling it over and holding onto some pucks and if we do that we’ll get our confidence in the first and be going [well].”
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman