The first two games of the Stanley Cup Final have been incredibly close, but close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades.
And shuffleboard. And darts. And the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right.
Close matters more than you think, it turns out.
But while the New York Rangers have been close in a pair of overtime losses to the Los Angeles Kings, this series is close to being over. Should the Kings walk out of Madison Square Garden on Monday night with a victory in Game 3, it will be time for the NHL to get the Stanley Cup engraver on the phone.
Here are three storylines for each team and a prediction for this crucial contest.
Kings' Top Storylines
How about playing from ahead?
The Kings have yet to play with a lead in the Stanley Cup Final and haven't done so since Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. It hasn't mattered the past three games, as they have erased a 2-0 deficit in each contest to emerge victorious.
Kings have now played 229:15 without having a lead during a game, and are 3-0. This is the event horizon of hockey.— Ray Ratto (@RattoCSN) June 8, 2014
The Kings believe they have to be better and don't want to continue to play with fire.
"Whether we're up down two, up two, the situation doesn't change for us," said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who scored the winner in Game 2. "Where we have faltered is at the start of games, the last three games, really. The mentality of our team is very black and white, and we've been missing that in the first period.
"In saying that, our mentality allows us to stay in games and then kind of turn the tide over the course of the games. That's allowed us to come back. We got to get back to it at the start of games."
The Kings have six wins this postseason when they allow the first goal; in the regular season, they had 10 wins of that nature.
All the giveaways
This Cup Final has been filled with exciting, unpredictable hockey, but it's also been sloppy at times. It's been especially sloppy for the Kings, who have been credited with 48 giveaways in two games, including 33 in Game 2.
"We were a little sloppy in our zone and the neutral zone, just letting them take their speed to us," defenseman Jake Muzzin said. "We’ve got to take it to them a little bit earlier on in the game."
"The forecheck's caused some of our guys some problems, for sure," coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's the strength of their team."
Jonathan Quick has done his best to bail out his team after many of those turnovers, but it's the area that needs the most improvement.
Will exhaustion ever set in?
Three rounds, 21 games. Now in the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings have played two-and-a-half additional overtimes.
The players admitted their legs were heavy at the start of Game 1, so what's to keep this grueling schedule from taking its toll in Game 3?
Also, thanks to NBC, Rangers have played 1 game in 9 days ... Kings coach Sutter said the 2 days off really helped his tired team.— Rangers Report (@rangersreport) June 7, 2014
Does Sutter have any concern about that going forward?
"Darn right," he said. "Thought about it late in the third, and I thought about it in the first overtime. Takes its toll. Always does. ... There's a lot of guys that played a lot of minutes. It's like the games, 23. That's a lot."
Rangers' Top Storylines
Getting off the mat
To lose in the fashion the Rangers did the first two games of this series is to lose in about the most painful way imaginable. Two games, two overtime losses after squandering two-goal leads.
"I don't think we're devastated," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. "Obviously, we're disappointed that we didn't get a better outcome with the two games we played in L.A. We had the lead, a controlling lead, and it's just unfortunate we couldn't hold on to those two-goal leads.
"But we're a lot happier with how we played (Game 2). A lot more jam, played a lot harder. We've got to take everything we did well tonight and bring it over to Game 3."
Before losing Game 2, the Rangers were 10-0 in the postseason when leading after two periods.
The Rangers have been resilient throughout this postseason, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. They are 6-3 in the playoffs in games following a loss, so there's no reason to count out the Rangers before they've played a game on home ice.
The liability that is Brad Richards
Brad Richards has been a valuable part of the Rangers this season after finding himself watching during the 2013 playoffs as a healthy scratch for two games. He's been the unofficial captain since the trade of captain Ryan Callahan and has held the team together through difficult times.
But he has been an anchor around the neck of the Rangers on the ice.
Coach Alain Vigneault seemed to be aware of this entering Game 2, as Richards played less than every other Ranger at five-on-five Saturday. Still, he committed a catastrophic turnover on the Kings' first goal, and his lack of foot speed is a detriment in matchups with Anze Kopitar's or Jeff Carter's lines.
The @NYRangers played well but once again a costly turnover, this time by Brad Richards gave the Kings life.— Linda Cohn (@lindacohn) June 8, 2014
According to Extra Skater, Richards was even in the Corsi battle in Game 1 but was obliterated in Game 2. He was on the ice for 26 shot attempts by the Kings and just 11 for the Rangers and, as a result, was a minus-three for the game.
Demoting Richards to the fourth line or scratching him for Game 3 isn't an option for Vigneault, who will instead have to choose matchups for that line much more carefully.
The liability that is Dan Girardi
The Rangers' speed has given the Kings problems in two games, but the lack of speed possessed by Dan Girardi is leading to great scoring chances.
During the third period of Game 1, Girardi was blitzed by Marian Gaborik and Tyler Toffoli on two separate occasions, but the puck didn't wind up in the net. In overtime, Girardi's turnover led to the Justin Williams scoring from the slot to win the game.
In Game 2, Girardi wasn't the scapegoat, but he was again overmatched on the top pairing with Ryan McDonagh.
Through two games, Girardi is losing the five-on-five shot attempt battle 60-32.
Girardi was especially poor in Game 2 despite a cushy zone-start situation.
Girardi: 62% o-zone starts, 38.7 CF%. Stralman: 42.9% OZ starts, 60.4 CF%. QoCs almost identical. Yikes.— Cörey Masisak (@cmasisak22) June 8, 2014
If Anton Stralman is playing better against the same competition, maybe it's time for Vigneault to adjust his defense pairings and offer Girardi more shelter. Dropping Girardi to the third pairing and promoting Stralman and Kevin Klein could make a world of difference.
Rangers 3, Kings 2
Look for the Rangers to again take an early lead, but this time the Kings won't be able to come all the way back. The Kings will have their energy sapped in their 24th game of the playoffs after a cross-country flight.
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