New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 2: Keys for Each Team
The margin between victory and defeat looks like it will be a narrow one in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Though the Los Angeles Kings gave up an early 2-0 lead in Game 1, the hosts were able to make the necessary adjustments to get back in the game and tie it by the midpoint of the second period. After dominating the third, Los Angeles prevailed thanks to Justin Williams' overtime winner off a Dan Girardi giveaway, 4:36 into the extra frame.
The Kings now hold a 1-0 lead in the series, with Game 2 scheduled to go Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
With two days off between games, both sides are fine-tuning their approaches in hopes of gaining the upper hand against an unfamiliar opponent.
Here's a look at the keys to victory for both teams in Game 2.
Key for New York: Bring the A-Game
Though the New York Rangers were one shot away from victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, coach Alain Vigneault didn't sugarcoat his assessment of his team's chances going forward.
"One thing is real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we're not going to beat [the Los Angeles Kings] if we do not all bring our 'A' game," Vigneault said Thursday, per the Canadian Press (via TSN.ca). "It is that strong of an opponent that we're playing against."
Vigneault named goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as one player who performed well and said there were a couple of others who played at their top level. He challenged the rest of the group to match the intensity that was delivered when finishing off the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"When we played Game 6 against Montreal, each and every player brought his A game. It's not an easy thing to do. But against this opponent, I do believe our expectations are to win, (we've) got to find a way to do it."
As my colleague Jonathan Willis wrote, "After playing fairly well through 40 minutes, the Rangers imploded toward the end of Game 1, so the question now is which version of the team shows up for Game 2."
Coach and players alike will have to deliver a little bit more if New York hopes to steal back home-ice advantage before returning to Madison Square Garden.
Key for Los Angeles: Don't Get Too Comfortable
With their penchant for dramatic comebacks, the Los Angeles Kings clearly don't get rattled when they fall behind in a game or a series.
In both the deciding game of their Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks and their opener against the Rangers, the Kings gave up two early goals before settling down, then coming back to win.
The Kings have rebounded four times in these playoffs from multi-goal deficits, one short of the record set by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers. Therein lies the cautionary tale: Those Flyers came back three times in the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers, but ultimately fell in seven games.
Rely on the comeback too much, and your luck might run out just when you need it most.
Coach Darryl Sutter is trying to snap his team out of its habit. "You can't chase leads all the time," he told the assembled media on Thursday, per Cam Cole of National Post. "We can play a lot better. And it’s way better when you’re not chasing the lead."
The Kings can take ownership of the series if they make a strong start in Game 2.
Key for New York: Stay Intense for 60 Minutes—Or More
On Wednesday, the New York Rangers got off to a good start in Game 1, but they weren't able to match the Kings' new looks as they made adjustments to their lines and their tactics.
Los Angeles scored the only goal of the second period on a well-timed drive into the zone by Drew Doughty, but the Rangers kept getting chances, outshooting the Kings 9-7 in the middle frame.
The third period was a different story: Los Angeles outshot their opponent 20-3 with the score tied. The Rangers were held without a shot for the first 11:43. With the game on the line, they couldn't even get a puck at the net.
New York may have been worn down in the third by the Kings' relentless physical approach. Los Angeles logged a typical 45 hits in the game. The Kings have been doing their best work lately as the clock winds down, so the Rangers will need to bolster their late-game approach if they hope to prevail in Game 2.
Key for Los Angeles: Limit Defensive Blunders
Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was the different playing style of a new opponent.
Whatever the reason, the Los Angeles Kings were, uncharacteristically, turnover machines in the early going of the first period on Wednesday.
In the Kings' defensive zone just 1:08 into the game, Willie Mitchell handed the puck over to Rick Nash, who missed the net with a 35-footer. Dwight King retrieved the loose puck and promptly gave it away again before the Kings were able to recover and finally make their way into the offensive zone for the first time in the game.
As the period wore on, Kyle Clifford handed the puck to Carl Hagelin for a shot, Justin Williams set up Kevin Klein, even defensive specialist Anze Kopitar lost the puck in his own zone.
The Kings finally got burned when New York opened the scoring after Benoit Pouliot stripped the puck from Drew Doughty—an uncharacteristic error from Los Angeles' best defenseman.
The Kings tightened up their defensive play as the game wore on, and Doughty atoned for his mistake with a gorgeous game-tying goal in the second period, but Los Angeles was uncharacteristically sloppy defensively throughout Game 1.
By game's end, L.A. had surrendered 18 giveaways to the Rangers' 10. The Kings will need to get back to their more typically stingy standards in Game 2.
Key for New York: Capitalize on Speed
For Rangers fans, Carl Hagelin's shorthanded breakaway goal at 15:03 of the first period was the highlight of the game.
The goal was scored on a spectacular rush against the flow of the play with Mats Zuccarello in the penalty box, giving the Rangers a 2-0 cushion and the early lead they sought against the potentially tired, disinterested Kings.
With Hagelin's seventh goal of the playoffs, the Swedish speedster now leads all Rangers in goal-scoring and has shown in every series how his turbo jets can make a difference in all game situations.
Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown knows his group needs to neutralize the speed Hagelin and his teammates bring to the game.
"Their best chances came off of their speed," said Brown, per Shawn Roarke of NHL.com. "We need to find a way, much like we did against Chicago, in a similar way, [forward Brandon] Saad, in particular, gave us trouble in Chicago; he's fast. It's about getting in their way, also managing the puck a lot better than we did."
The Rangers' best chance to get goals in Game 2 will come if they can use their speed to create holes like they did in the early going on Wednesday.
Key for Los Angeles: Get the Power Play Pumping
The power play has been a key part of the Los Angeles Kings' success through the first three rounds of the playoffs but has gone dry in the past two games.
Los Angeles went 0-of-2 in the critical Game 7 against Chicago, then 0-of-4 in Game 1 against the Rangers, also giving up a shorthanded goal along the way.
The Kings had just one shot in their first three power-play opportunities on Wednesday. On the fourth, the late slashing penalty to Brian Boyle with just 1:36 left in the third period, Los Angeles managed two shots but wasn't able to take advantage of a golden opportunity to win the game without going to overtime.
Beyond the goals, a good power play creates a psychological threat: The opponent become less aggressive when they start worrying about what will happen if they get called for a penalty. For a lethal team that makes their rivals pay when they go to the penalty box, there's suddenly a lot more room on the ice to go about their business.
The Kings would like nothing more than to strike that type of fear into the hearts of the Rangers.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.