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Captainless Rangers say they have the leaders to rally from deficit

NEW YORK — After enduring their second consecutive gut-punch defeat — both on the road, both in overtime, both after blowing two-goal leads — there was an uneasy tension in the New York Rangers’ dressing room late Saturday, an
uncomfortable mix of anger, frustration and disappointment.

Henrik Lundqvist was fuming about a missed goalie-interference call on Dwight King’s turning-point goal in the third period. Brian Boyle was bristling at the idea of moral victories. And other Rangers hung their heads and shook them in disbelief that another golden opportunity to steal a game in Los Angeles had eluded them.

With a long flight Sunday to New York and a must-win Game 3 looming Monday at Madison Square Garden, this is when a captain earns his stripes.

Well, the Rangers don’t have one. They dealt captain Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline. But while nobody has a ‘‘C’’ sewn to his sweater in the Rangers’ room, they think they have a
leadership group in place that can see them through anything.

‘‘When you have a captain, you help and you defer to your captain,’’ said center Brad Richards, one of three alternate captains, along with defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. ‘‘Now it’s more by committee. We have a lot of guys that have been around.’’

There are plenty of logistics that go into being captain, including serving as the players’ liaison to the coach, working with him on practice and meeting schedules and being the team’s voice on the ice when it comes to dealing with the officials. More than anything, though, a captain is the emotional leader of the team. That’s why the Callahan trade caught so many Rangers off-guard when it happened.

But since that deal March 5, the Rangers closed the regular season on a 12-5-2 kick, then knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal
Canadiens to reach their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.

‘‘It’s a big move, especially at that point of the season,’’ Rangers center Chris Kreider said. ‘‘It’s kind of strange because it’s our captain, and guys got along with him so well. Ryan’s such an unbelievable player. I think it’s a testament to the group and a testament to [St. Louis], too, how quickly both sides kind of got acclimated to one
another and grew comfortable and were able to move forward.’’

It’ll be up to players such as Richards, Girardi, Staal and Lundqvist, the veteran voices in the dressing room, to keep the Rangers focused in the face of frustration because the Kings aren’t about to get complacent. While the Rangers feel like they let one or two games slip away, the Kings feel like they got away with one or two games. Even with a 2-0 series lead, the Kings are furious with themselves for the way they’ve played, falling behind 2-0 early in both games.

‘‘Quite honestly, we’re not happy with how we’ve started these two games — at all,’’ Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. ‘‘It baffles
everyone in here. It’s not a place we want to be in, to have to climb out of all the time. Sooner or later, it’s going to bite you in the [butt].’’

Neither team is happy two games into this wild Final. Whichever team can handle the pressure and level out those emotions best will have the edge in Game 3. And that starts with the leaders, whether they have a ‘‘C’’ on their sweaters or not.

‘‘You have to move on,’’ Lund-
qvist said. ‘‘You just have to stick with it and believe in each other and what we’re doing. It’s good. It’s definitely good enough.’’


Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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