The Los Angeles Kings are two victories away from securing the Stanley Cup crown over the New York Rangers, but they're not fond of winning with room to spare.
Leading up to their second championship appearance in three years, the Kings have played the maximum amount of hockey, with all three of their Western Conference showdowns lasting the full seven games. That streak is in jeopardy after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
After rallying late to produce two overtime wins, the Kings hold the firm edge with the series shifting east to New York, which will host its first Stanley Cup game in 20 years on Monday night.
Don't make the mistake of awarding the Kings the trophy. There's still plenty of hockey to be played, with at least two games to take place in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd.
|2014 Stanley Cup Schedule|
|Game No.||Away Team||Home Team||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Rangers||Kings||Wed., June 4||King 3-2 (OT)|
|2||Rangers||Kings||Sat., June 7||Kings 5-4 (2OT)|
|3||Kings||Rangers||Mon., June 9||8 p.m.||NBC Sports|
|4||Kings||Rangers||Wed., June 11||8 p.m.||NBC Sports|
|5 *||Rangers||Kings||Fri., June 13||8 p.m.||NBC|
|6 *||Kings||Rangers||Sun., June 15||8 p.m.||NBC|
|7 *||Rangers||Kings||Wed., June 18||8 p.m.||NBC|
|ESPN.com, *=if necessary|
The Rangers nailed down gaining the lead. Now they need to figure out how to keep it.
Given their first taste of the Stanley Cup in two decades, New York jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening contest. With help from a fortuitous bounce off Slava Voynov's foot, the Rangers earned a two-goal advantage.
That lead, however, vanished before the third period, which Los Angeles thoroughly manhandled with a 20-3 shot advantage. The Kings' hard labor around the net paid off in overtime, where Justin Williams registered his eighth playoff goal less than five minutes into extra time.
Game 2 produced the same story on a different day. The Rangers struck first with two goals but lost control before succumbing in overtime. This time, they battled to a second overtime before Los Angeles delivered the game-ending blow.
As debilitating as it is to lose two road games in such gut-wrenching fashion, goalie Henrik Lundqvist noted the bright side for their future chances. As he told ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, the Rangers could have won both games with a break here and there.
You have to move on. It's a game. We all battled, I battled and we played five periods. Obviously, the difference is not very big. Even the last game, the difference is not big. You just have to stick with it and believe in each other and what we're doing. It's good. It's definitely good enough; it's just one bounce here or there and it's a different score here. We came up short in two games. Now, we have to go back to New York and turn this around.
Lundqvist will have to lead the way for the Rangers to climb back into the series. For a team that averaged 2.6 goals per game during the season, Game 2's four scores represented an offensive outburst that went to waste with little defensive help. Before the Stanley Cup, they were 9-2 in the playoffs when tallying at least three goals.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, teams with a 2-0 lead often finish the deal during the Stanley Cup.
While the Kings may feel like the proverbial "team of destiny" after constantly pulling off dramatic victories, they're simply a great team whose talent is materializing in nail-biting fashion.
According to Behind the Net, Los Angeles led the NHL this season with a 56.48 Fenwick close percentage, an advanced stat measuring a team's even-strength scoring efficiency. That success did not appear on the surface for the West's sixth-highest points producer, but it has averaged a league-best 3.5 goals scored per postseason game.
The Kings are clicking when it matters most. Williams has posted four assists in two games against New York, while budding star Drew Doughty has compiled 17 postseason points.
Yet they're prone to sharp spells of inconsistency. They dropped consecutive games in each of the first three series, including three straight defeats each against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. All things considered, they're extremely fortunate to have gotten this far with nine playoff losses.
If the pattern continues, they'll cough up their series lead and breathe new life into the Rangers. Then they'll probably rip out their hearts once hope is restored. Who knows anymore with this unpredictable team playing a sport prone to wild swings of random variation?