Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings were celebrated as elimination-game gods. Yes, they’re really good at winning games when their playoff lives are on the line. This postseason alone, L.A. has played in seven elimination games—three of which were Game 7s—and won each and every one.
Following their dramatic overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, extra-time hero Alec Martinez said of his team’s resilience ““We never say die. Someone described us as a bunch of cockroaches. We don’t go away.”
Interestingly enough, the Kings, who still employ 17 members of their 2012 championship team, breezed through the postseason two years ago, losing just four games en route to raising Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.
But things have been different this year. The Kings played the maximum 21 games before the puck dropped on the Cup Final Wednesday evening, having gone the distance with the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and the Blackhawks in the three previous rounds.
Nonetheless, the Kings have won when they’ve had to and as such have been branded the Kings of Clutch.
Good for them.
Yet lost in the hoopla are the New York Rangers, and their seemingly long-forgotten Game 7 winning streak. Even Henrik Lundqvist’s staggering elimination-game record is ancient history, even though it reared its spectacular head just under a month ago in Pittsburgh.
As is the case with the series—with the Rangers being the underdogs and all—New York’s all-or-nothing games success has flown under the radar. And although head coach Alain Vigneault may appreciate that, it doesn’t make it right.
The Rangers haven’t lost a Game 7 since 2009, having won two this postseason, one in 2013 and two more in 2012. Lundqvist is a career 5-1 in such games, while Brad Richards has yet to lose a Game 7 (5-0). Martin St. Louis has been defeated just once in his career when a series reaches maximum games.
In addition, the 39-year-old St. Louis is tied for the active lead in overtime playoff goals (4) with Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane and Patrick Marleau.
As for Lundqvist, the Swede is 10-2 all-time in playoff eliminations games, posting a 1.00 goals-against average (GAA) and a .957 save percentage (SV%). In the four elimination games this postseason, The King has gone 4-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .969 SV%.
The point being, the Rangers are clutch, too. In big games, Lundqvist is nearly unbeatable. Pair that with the experience of the team’s two primary leaders, and you’ve got no slouch.
The Kings may have done the impossible in coming back from 3-0 down to the Sharks in the first round, making them the more attractive story, but New York isn’t easy to knock off either.
Although I do find it funny that the Rangers—before defeating the Montreal Canadiens in a six-game Eastern Conference Final—were looked down upon for the better part of the past three seasons because they couldn’t win a series in fewer than seven games.
Now it’s L.A. that can’t, yet nobody wants to talk about that fact in a negative light.
I agree the Kings are the favorites to win this series, partly due to the great focus and experience they demonstrated in Wednesday night’s OT victory in Game 1.
But if this series goes seven games, the Rangers have as much a chance to win it as the Kings do, despite what you hear in the media. It might be general anti-New York practice to praise out-of-city opponents for the same things the Rangers were criticized for, or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it’s simply wrong.
The Rangers can win big games. They’ve been doing it for a while now. See: Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Jonathan Quick may be a top goalie in this league, as well as a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy winner, but Lundqvist’s performance that evening was utterly sublime.
If there’s anyone who could stop Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams, it’s the King. We’ll just have to wait and see if the immovable object meets the unstoppable force in a win-or-go-home finale.