Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Keys for Rangers to Erase Early Deficit Against Kings

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Keys for Rangers to Erase Early Deficit Against Kings
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The New York Rangers find themselves in an unenviable predicament after dropping the opening two games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.

But if their pesky opponents have taught us anything, a series is hardly over at 2-0. Despite surrendering two early leads in two brutal overtime losses, the Rangers can still make this a series upon returning home.

If this were the Kings down 2-0, we'd just call it a normal Sunday and carry on with life. The resilient squad overcame a 3-0 deficit to the San Jose Sharks to survive the first round. After nearly squandering an edge of their own in Round 2, they embraced near elimination once again to mount a comeback down 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks.

Then there was the whole winning Game 7 on the road in overtime over the Chicago Blackhawks.

How can the Rangers turn the tables and mount a comeback over the Western Conference champion? The two teams needed extra time to decide both contests, so a few improvements here and there can turn the tides.

2014 Stanley Cup Schedule (Kings Up 2-0)
Game No. Away Team Home Team Time (ET) TV
1 Rangers Kings King 3-2 (OT)
2 Rangers Kings Kings 5-4 (OT)
3 Kings Rangers 8 p.m. NBC Sports
4 Kings Rangers 8 p.m. NBC Sports
5 * Rangers Kings 8 p.m. NBC
6 * Kings Rangers 8 p.m. NBC
7 * Rangers Kings 8 p.m. NBC

ESPN.com, *=if necessary

 

Capitalize on Power Plays

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Through two games, neither team has made a considerable dent on power-play opportunities. Each team has generated one goal in eight power plays.

Anyone who has tuned in just for the postseason won't waste any energy feigning any surprise over New York's inefficiency. The Rangers have faltered throughout the postseason with the numbers advantage, scoring 12 times on 89 opportunities for a dismal 13.5 percentage.

Their power play has become an Internet punchline, with critics including YES writer/editor Lou DiPietro mocking their futility.

The Kings, meanwhile, have recorded 18 goals in 75 chances (24 percent) through the playoffs despite a lack of results against the Rangers. That points to the Kings unearthing an even bigger advantage once their output wakes up in the ensuing games, but that's not necessarily the case. 

Looking at the full data, Los Angeles is actually the inferior squad on power plays. It ranked 27th during the season with goals on 15.1 percent of its strong-handed chances, while the Rangers placed 15th with a 18.2 percent conversion rate.

We're not talking about the Rangers developing into a juggernaut after every penalty. Posting two power-play goals, maybe even three if they're lucky, instead of one during the next two games could be enough to even the series at two apiece before leaving the Big Apple.

 

Henrik Lundqvist Must Be the King

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Before the series began, FiveThirtyEight's Eric Tulsky argued that the series is closer than everyone thinks. For the Rangers to prevail, he concluded that Henrik Lundqvist's track record must win out over the small best-of-seven sampling.

Finally, it’s possible that it’s all going to come down to goaltending — this is hockey, after all — and the Rangers have a clear advantage there. This was the fifth straight year that Henrik Lundqvist posted a save percentage higher than 92 percent, and his save percentage has been higher than Jonathan Quick’s in every year of Quick’s career. Obviously, over a short series either goalie can get hot and turn the tide, but goalie streaks are almost entirely unpredictable and all we can do in advance is note which goalie is more talented. In this case, it’s clearly Lundqvist. The question is just how big of an advantage he gives the Rangers.

While it's easy to discredit Tulsky with the Kings ahead 2-0, the early proceedings have actually proven his entire point. The games have boiled down to breaks and controversial calls, but the Rangers have drawn the short end of the stick because their star goalie has allowed eight goals with a 90.8 save percentage.

He's still saving plenty of shots, a credit to the Kings' ability to control possession of the puck, but that's just enough under his 92 percent career save percentage to make the difference in two overtime affairs.

Would it really surprise anyone to see Lundqvist mount a couple shutouts to make this a series again? One of the NHL's premier goalies can bring Los Angeles' victory parade to a screeching halt with a few phenomenal performances.

 

Show Up in the Third Period

Whenever a team in any sport rides out to a lead, it forgets everything it did to obtain that advantage, instead shifting to a controversial "just don't blow this" style that causes it to do just that.

In Games 1 and 2, the Rangers combined for 10 shots on goal during the third period. They averaged 11 shots on goal per period before taking their foot off the gas in the closing 20 minutes.

The Kings have taken advantage, becoming more aggressive with the game on the line. As pointed out by CBS NY's Daniel Friedman, they're earning way more shots than their timid adversaries.

Forward Carl Hagelin acknowledged the problem after Game 1, telling Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski“Overall a good game, except the third period there. We didn’t take the shots we needed.” 

Sorry to force a visit from the cliche police, but the Rangers need to play a full 60 minutes if they want to win. They can't shift to a more defensive scheme or focus one eye on overtime, where the Kings show no mercy or fear for the moment.

Lundqvist can work wonders behind the net, but his job would become much easier if the Rangers didn't abandon everything that worked well for them in the earlier periods.

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