NEW YORK -- Viacheslav Kovalev is far removed from the frenzied New York Rangers fans who will pack Madison Square Garden tonight for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
But he certainly knows how much is on the line.
Sunday he called from Moscow to talk with his son, Rangers forward Alexei Kovalev.
"My father and my friends are worried because we have not won the Stanley Cup yet," Alexei said yesterday. "This is my first playoff and they know and I know it is important to win. And now we are through 84 games and 23 playoff games and this is the last game.
"I think it is not fun anymore. It is 54 years since Rangers won Stanley Cup. I think we better win. I think my father won't understand why we didn't win, if we don't win it here on home ice."
A lot of Rangers fans won't understand, either.
They don't understand how New York could blow a 3-1 series advantage against the Vancouver Canucks.
And they will be ready to label this team the biggest choke act of all time if the Rangers lose tonight.
Alexei Kovalev sighed.
"Please," he said. "I do not want to talk about not winning. Even my father tells me we need to play more hard."
Other Rangers also tried to avoid thinking about the negative possibilities.
"We had to do an awful lot right to get here," said Adam Graves, who led the Rangers with a record 52 goals this season but who has yet to score in this series. "You don't worry about what you can't control. . . . You go out and depend on the 20 other guys you play with and they depend on you, and you make sure you bring your strengths to the ice.
"Beyond that, I can't think. I can't think about losing or how other people will look at it if we lose. I'd go crazy. I would. I don't mean it sarcastically at all. I would go crazy."
Since the best-of-seven format was put into play, in 1939, nine previous finals have gone seven games, the last in 1987.
And only one team has ever overcome a three-game deficit to win the Stanley Cup. That was Toronto in 1942. By winning Game 5 and Game 6, Vancouver put itself into position to do the same.
"We just felt the pressure for two games," said Vancouver goalie Kirk McLean. "I'm sure there is pressure for Game 7, but it has to be on both sides now. No one expects us to win. It's going to be fun."
It will be fun for the Canucks if they can continue to take New York out of its game.
The Rangers, a team known for taking an early lead and forcing the opposition to press, has not scored the first goal since Game 4.
They have led for fewer than six minutes total since forging to that 3-1 advantage and have been outscored 10-4.
The Canucks also have controlled the play in the neutral zone and kept the puck in the Rangers end, instead of the other way around.
Tonight, the Rangers said, they'll focus on playing sound defense.
And they'll try to ignore the pressure.
"This is not life or death," said Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom. "It's just an asterisk in our careers. The results will be what the results will be. And no matter what happens in this game, the sun will come up Wednesday and my kids will run into the room and hug and kiss me. I think we have to take a great enjoyment from this. A lot of guys, over entire careers, never get the opportunity to play one last game for the Stanley Cup."
Tell that to Rangers captain Mark Messier, 33.
"At this point in my career and at my age, when you start out to win the Stanley Cup anything less is unacceptable," Messier said. "This is no time for the faint of heart."
STANLEY CUP FINALS
NEW YORK RANGERS vs. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
(Series tied, 3-3)
Gm. 1: Canucks 3, Rangers 2, OT
Gm. 2: Rangers 3, Canucks 1
Gm. 3: Rangers 5, Canucks 1
Gm. 4: Rangers 4, Canucks 2
Gm. 5: Canucks 6, Rangers 3
Gm. 6: Canucks 4, Rangers 1
Date ...... Site ...... Time
Today .. at New York .. 8:08