Another Blown Lead Has Rangers Searching for Answers in 2014 Stanley Cup Final

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Another Blown Lead Has Rangers Searching for Answers in 2014 Stanley Cup Final
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For the second consecutive game, the New York Rangers quickly took a 2-0 lead and silenced a hostile crowd on the road.

Then, again for the second consecutive game, the Los Angeles Kings negated that two-goal lead and evened the score before the end of regulation. The Rangers, as they did in Game 1, would go on to lose in overtime, 5-4.

To borrow a phrase from one veteran reporter, it’s soul crushing:

With the exception of the third period of Game 1, the Rangers have played a reasonably good series. The fact that both games have gone to overtime speaks to the closeness of the series. But instead of earning a split on the road, the team now goes back to New York down two games to none.

This despite the fact that the Kings have not held a lead at any point in the series:

Much of the attention after the game focused on the Kings’ third goal, a critical marker and a controversial one because of the perception that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was interfered with. Lundqvist was visibly upset after the goal and explained his feelings after the game:

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault’s dry sense of humour asserted itself when he was asked about the decision to allow the goal:

For all the controversy surrounding that goal, the Rangers have plenty of other problems.

One of the biggest is the team’s inability to hang on to leads, an issue directly connected to the play of its top defence pairing. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were on the ice for the Kings’ third and fourth goals of regulation, as well as for the overtime winner, and both made multiple mistakes with the puck in those sequences.

McDonagh coughing the puck up to Marian Gaborik on the tying goal is a good example:

Lundqvist deserves some attention, too. After a phenomenal Game 1 he looked merely human in Game 2, allowing five goals on 44 shots. The Rangers desperately need him to be the best goalie on the ice by a significant margin for this to be a competitive series; he was the first time out, but on Saturday night, that wasn’t evident.

Rick Nash is going to take some heat—he was pointless and minus-one—but he actually had a pretty good game, something his game-leading eight shots (with almost no power-play time, yet) hints at. But he needs to find some finish.

Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

More deserving of criticism is a line that had some finish. The Martin St. Louis line (centered by Brad Richards and also featuring Carl Hagelin) mostly faced L.A.’s second defence pairing and barely played against the Kopitar line but got smoked. All three were bad; St. Louis and Richards finished the night minus-three. That wasn't a fluke, either; with St. Louis on the ice, the Kings had 27 shots and the Rangers had nine.  

For all that the Rangers did well, those are massive problems. If one were to catalogue the team’s strengths entering the series—a first-rate goaltender, some top-end defencemen, offensive depth—he would be shocked to discover that in Game 2 the goalie was average, the defencemen were prone to error and the offensive depth was destroyed by the opposition.  

All are more important than what was a poor non-call by the referees on L.A.’s third goal.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It is up to Vigneault and his staff to find the answers now as this series shifts back to New York. With home ice he’ll have considerably more control over in-game items like line-matching than he did on the road, and he’s going to need it because as much as the Rangers have been in both games, there is no shortage of problem areas to deal with.

In a way, the task facing Vigneault echoes New York’s regular season, when the team was 3-6-0 after starting the year on a nine-game road trip. There, the Rangers came home facing a daunting task and were able to recover and push their way back into the postseason.

Vigneault just has to hope he can engineer a similar recovery now.

 

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.comTimeonIce.com and NHL.com.

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