With each New York Rangers penalty kill, and with each shift from the Los Angeles Kings' second line, we get one step closer to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Rangers and Kings seem to be a crash course for each other, but as we've been reminded all playoffs long, it's far too early to write off the Montreal Canadiens or Chicago Blackhawks.
Playoff hockey is a different beast, and when teams have their backs pushed up against the wall, the intensity only increases.
That's sure to happen in the upcoming games, so let's take a look at where you can catch all the action.
Eastern Conference Final
|1||Rangers beat Canadiens, 7-2||May 17||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Rangers beat Canadiens, 3-1||May 19||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Canadiens beat Rangers, 3-2||May 22||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Rangers beat Canadiens, 3-2||May 25||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||May 27||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|6*||Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers||May 29||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|7*||New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||May 31||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
P.K. Subban's game-tying goal late in the third period of Game 4 Sunday threatened to take the air out of the surging New York Rangers, but then Martin St. Louis went and did this in overtime:
The Rangers now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead, one game away from the Stanley Cup finals. A big reason for the recent success has been the play of the penalty kill unit.
After falling behind 3-1 to the Penguins in the second round, Alain Vigneault's team has now reeled off six wins in its last seven. Subban's goal on Sunday night came via power play, but the Rangers are still an impressive 25-of-26 in penalty kill opportunities over that stretch of games. Although the streak is now over, John Buccigross noted just how good the team had been:
Rangers: 22-22 on penalty kill over last 8 games-team’s longest postseason streak since going 10 straight games without allowing PPG in 1940— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 25, 2014
Henrik Lundqvist has been a big part of that, saving 211 of the 222 shots (.950 save percentage) that have come his way. And as he told reporters, via The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle, he isn't letting up anytime soon:
Lundqvist on being one win from the Cup final for the first time: "That's good motivation right there."— James Mirtle (@mirtle) May 26, 2014
The Rangers' own power play hasn't been very effective since Game 1, but thanks to stifling defense paired with the outstanding play of St. Louis and Ryan McDonagh, it doesn't look like it will matter.
It's not over, but Montreal needs something special to turn around this series.
Western Conference Final
|1||Blackhawks beat Kings, 3-1||May 18||3 p.m.||NBC|
|2||Kings beat Blackhawks, 6-2||May 21||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Kings beat Blackhawks, 4-3||May 24||8 p.m.||NBC|
|4||Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings||May 26||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks||May 28||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|6*||Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings||May 30||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|7*||Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks||June 1||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
During the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup run two seasons ago, it was Jonathan Quick who put the team on his back. As the 28-year-old netminder has struggled (at least by his high standards) this time around, though, his teammates have been there to return the favor.
Quick has especially been unlike himself during the Western Conference Final. In three games so far, he has allowed eight goals on 72 shot attempts, giving him a save percentage of just .889 compared to a .915 mark during the regular season.
When your offense scores 10 goals in two games, though, it tends to take a little bit of the pressure off.
The Kings' second line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli has been responsible for much of that.
In the first three games of the series, that trio has already tallied 15 points to go with a combined plus/minus of plus-12. Carter has been notably transcendent, scoring a hat trick in Game 2 and three more points (one goal, two assists) in Game 3.
The Canadian Game on Twitter summed up the 29-year-old center's immense impact:
In the past 3 NHL playoffs, no one has more goals than Jeff Carter (22). The guy is clutch.— The Canadian Game (@ItsCanadasGame) May 25, 2014
After the Game 3 win, Carter talked to reporters about his unit's series-changing play, via Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir:
We’ve been doing the things that we need to. Using our speed, getting our pucks behind their D. When we’re physical on their D, we create turnovers. We’ve been bearing down on our chances. That’s what we need to do.
Conversely, Chicago's counter of Michal Handzus, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp has been awful, tallying a whopping one point for a combined plus/minus of minus-seven.
Jonathan Toews has three goals, and Marian Hossa has added three helpers for Chicago, but the play of the second lines has defined this series. If it doesn't change soon, Los Angeles is going back to the finals.