The New York Rangers used the full measure of their speed and savvy to seize a 2-0 lead in the first period of Game 1 on the road. Then the Los Angeles Kings outplayed New York for the remainder of the game until they finally notched the game-winner early in overtime.
Despite there being no shame in losing on the road to open a Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers have to feel like they acquiesced to the Kings' style of play as the game progressed. Slowly but surely, the Kings' forechecking clogged up the action, stifled the Rangers attack and wore down the defense.
After the Rangers seized that 2-0 lead, the game played out exactly as many pundits predicted: LA used its size and physicality to dictate the pace and control the game. If the Rangers cannot find ways to counteract that going forward, they will struggle to even notch a win or two in the series.
Game 2 Time: Saturday, June 7 at 7 p.m. ET
Game 2 Place: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Game 2 Viewing: NBC or the NBC Live Extra Stream
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(Odds taken from OddsShark.com on June 5 at 6 p.m. ET)
Game 1 saw many quirky plays, but the sum total of the Rangers offense looked decidedly underwhelming. Benoit Pouliot supplied the first goal on a breakaway after he dispossessed sensational blueliner Drew Doughty. Carl Hagelin made it 2-0 when his short-handed shot caromed into the net off an LA defenseman following Jonathan Quick's save.
Everything seemed to be breaking right for the Blueshirts, but then Derek Stepan mishandled the puck in his own zone and Kyle Clifford feasted on the opportunity by fluttering the puck over Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder off the feed from Jeff Carter. After a sensational period for the visitors, they led only 2-1.
That first goal the Kings got was the key to the game. Rangers dominated period 1 and found themselves up by a goal. Needed that to be 2-0.— Chris Mad Dog Russo (@MadDogUnleashed) June 5, 2014
Doughty made up for his blunder in the first period by evening the score in the second when the Rangers defense fell into disarray. Despite a furious conclusion to regulation that saw no fewer than three scoring chances in the final minute, the 2-2 score held up through 60 minutes.
However, the Kings completely stymied the Rangers in the third period and outshot them by a preposterous 20-3 margin.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who is familiar with the Kings from his time coaching the Vancouver Canucks, could not explain to The Associated Press after the game why his team got trounced so thoroughly in the third period:
Not quite sure what happened there in the third. Not sure if it was them being that good or us stopping moving the puck and skating and going north-south. They definitely took it to us in the third, and they were able to get a bounce on the winning goal and put it in the back of the net.
When Hagelin failed to score his second short-handed goal of the game on a breakaway in the final minute of regulation, it seemed only a matter of time before LA would finally solve the Lundqvist riddle and take a 1-0 series lead.
Verily, a Dan Girardi turnover in his own zone brought the Kings' third goal and a bitter loss in overtime for the Broadway Blueshirts. Both of New York's goals came from breakaways, and two of the three goals the team allowed were the result of costly turnovers by its defensemen.
Lundqvist is the best player on the Rangers by light-years, but he can only fend off so many shots. Not even the former Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic gold medalist can deny egregious turnovers by his own defensemen. Had the Rangers' penalty kill not been so superb, the final score would have been a lopsided Kings victory.
The inspiration that the team has drawn from the grit and determination shown by Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore will not manifest itself directly on the scoreboard.
In the third period when they desperately needed some offense to keep the puck out of their own end, the Rangers could not conjure anything of worth. One of their three shots on goal in the period came from the other end of the ice on a penalty-killing clearance.
A Rangers comeback is not completely out of the question, but after the first 15 minutes of Game 1, the Kings' overall quality dimmed hopes for New York.
Ultimately, the Rangers will put themselves in a world of hurt if they cannot draw even in Game 2.
Despite New York heading back to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4, the Kings proved quite clearly that their size and strength are built to outlast the Rangers' speed and open-ice aggression. A whole host of adjustments will be needed in a hurry.
Who will win the Stanley Cup?
Both major and minor players have struggled for New York, from Canadian offensive stud Rick Nash with only three postseason goals to defenseman Raphael Diaz, who flagged noticeably in Game 1 and was removed from the line rotation for a stretch.
The best path to the Rangers' second Stanley Cup in 74 years consisted of stealing an early road win and claiming a 3-1 lead after a pair of victories at home and then locking up the series at MSG in Game 6. The odds prior to the series bear out that ideal scenario for New York. While the Rangers cannot play as poorly as they did in that third period, it will be a battle just to keep the series level.
Now, the Rangers are not only playing from behind but asking themselves whether they can even match the Kings' intensity for 60 minutes without getting completely worn down.
Prediction: Kings in six