Los Angeles Kings vs. New York Rangers Game 3: Keys for Each Team
The Los Angeles Kings have a 2-0 lead over the New York Rangers in their Stanley Cup Final series, yet they haven't led the series for even one second. It shouldn't be possible, but these Kings are starting to look like they can do just about anything.
Despite falling into their second straight two-goal hole to open Game 2 on Saturday at Staples Center, Los Angeles was once again able to rebound. This time out, captain Dustin Brown delivered the double-overtime dagger by tipping Willie Mitchell's point shot past Henrik Lundqvist for the win.
The Kings triumphed in a game they may not have deserved to win. Now, the Rangers are running out of time to find a way to be on the positive side of the ledger when the final buzzer sounds.
The Stanley Cup scene shifts to Madison Square Garden in New York for Game 3 on Monday at 8 p.m. ET. Here's a look at the keys to victory for each team.
Key for Los Angeles: Keep Forging New Ground
The Los Angeles Kings' developing dynasty is being built on a foundation of jaw-dropping tenacity.
When they won the Stanley Cup in 2012, the Kings became the first No. 8 seed ever to accomplish the feat, grinding through four higher-seeded opponents and starting every series on the road.
This year, Los Angeles was one game away from elimination in Round 1 before staging its stunning four-game comeback against the San Jose Sharks. The more the Kings achieve, the more it seems like no mountain is too high to climb.
On Saturday, the Kings added to their legend by becoming the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive playoffs games after coming back from deficits of two goals or more—in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks and the first two games against the Rangers. No matter what the circumstances, they never stop thinking they're going to win.
According to Game 2's overtime hero, Dustin Brown, every comeback is created with a step-by-step approach:
"Everyone is talking about how we come back, I think it's more how we turn the tide of the game over the course of the game," Brown said to Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "We're not worried about scoring the game-winning goal. We're worried about just playing our game, grinding away. It starts with one."
At this point, there's no reason to think the Kings will lose access to their "can-do" attitude. More records could fall before these playoffs are complete.
Key for New York: Feed off Home-Ice Advantage
The Rangers' last home game at Madison Square Garden ended with a party.
After being forced to a sixth game against the Montreal Canadiens after a subpar performance from Henrik Lundqvist in Game 5, the goalie bounced back with a perfect outing. The Rangers posted a 1-0 win on Dominic Moore's lone goal to earn their first Prince of Wales Trophy since they won the Stanley Cup back in 1994.
Coming home with a two-game deficit is hardly an ideal circumstance, but the Rangers can draw inspiration from recent past performances by a couple of their Eastern Conference compatriots:
- In 2011, the Boston Bruins lost the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver before rallying at home, then winning the series in seven games.
- In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost the first two games of their Final to the Detroit Red Wings, then bounced back with two home wins and eventually took the Cup in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena.
New York is 6-4 at home so far in these playoffs and enjoying the comforts of a newly renovated Madison Square Garden.
Since the Rangers have been so close to victory in the first two games of this series, maybe the support of the rabid fans in the Big Apple will provide the boost to help them turn an "L" into a "W" in Game 3.
Key for Los Angeles: Turn Over a New Leaf
Before Game 2, I chastised the Kings for their uncharacteristically sloppy defensive play and suggested they'd need to tighten up their game.
What happened? Instead of the 18 giveaways they surrendered in Game 1, Los Angeles generously handed over a whopping 33 pucks to the Rangers in Game 2!
Almost every King contributed to the mess. Normally reliable Justin Williams was the worst offender with five giveaways on the night, including one to Dominic Moore that led to the opening goal of the game by Ryan McDonagh midway through the first period.
Willie Mitchell of the Kings knows that his team needs to be more careful with the puck. From Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com:
We're not happy with how we've started these two games at all. It's the Stanley Cup finals, and you know everyone in this room cares. So much. But we haven't executed. We haven't executed well in the first half of games [in this series]. It baffles everyone in here. It's not a place we want to be in to have to climb out of all the time. Sooner or later, it's going to bite you in the ass.
Cutting back on giveaways would go a long way toward tidying up the Kings' issues with early game execution.
Key for New York: Lundqvist Starts with a Clean Slate
There's no doubt that Henrik Lundqvist was rattled by Los Angeles' third goal on Saturday.
With the Rangers holding a 4-2 lead, Dwight King was screening in front of the net when he tipped a Matt Greene shot past Lundqvist. With Ryan McDonagh leaning on him, King made contact with the goaltender, but referee Dan O'Halloran ruled that the contact came after the puck passed Lundqvist.
"I don't buy it," Lundqvist said, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "That's a wrist shot that I'm just going to reach out for and I can't move. It's a different game after that. It's such an important play in the game." Lundqvist also said he didn't think the play was a penalty, but that the whistle should have been blown because he wasn't able to move in his crease.
He's not the first goalie to dispute an interference call, and he won't be the last, but the veteran should be well-aware that nothing positive will result from getting wound up about the situation. Lundqvist continued to berate the officials during the next few play stoppages, and the incident was probably still on his mind when Marian Gaborik potted the Kings' game-tying goal just over five minutes later.
Lundqvist tried to get his measure of revenge late in the first overtime with a soccer-style flop after being bumped by Jeff Carter outside the crease, but the Rangers didn't generate a single shot on the ensuing power play.
"You have to move on; it's a game," Lundqvist said afterward, trying to get back into the typical hockey mindset. "Obviously, the difference is not very big."
My colleague Dave Lozo emphasized the netminder's importance to the Rangers, writing, "For the Rangers to win this series, a lot was going to be asked of Lundqvist. He hasn’t answered enough."
Lundqvist's lack of focus did cost his team in Game 2. He has a tendency to come back strong after tough outings, so expect to see his steely determination on full display at MSG on Monday.
Key for Los Angeles: Keep Lundqvist Agitated
While Lundqvist tries to keep his cool, the Kings should keep applying the heat.
As a whole, crease-crashing hasn't been a prominent storyline in this series. The officials warned both teams early in Game 1 that tolerance would be low for goalie interference. We haven't seen plays anything like Chris Kreider's "accidentally on purpose" collision with Carey Price from the Montreal series.
Both Lundqvist and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick have extremely low tolerances for contact, but Quick has kept his emotions in check so far.
As a previous Stanley Cup winner, Quick has been down this road and knows how to handle the pressure, while this is Lundqvist's first Final.
If the Kings can play just close enough to the edge to prevent a testy and distracted Lundqvist from dialing in his A-game, that could be enough to bring Los Angeles within one game of another Stanley Cup championship.
Key for New York: No More Lightning Strikes
Make no mistake: The Rangers' loss in Game 2 does not fall solely on Lundqvist's shoulders. The tandem from Tampa Bay, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, were brutal defensively, especially when it mattered, on Saturday.
Both forwards were minus-three on the night, while linemate Carl Hagelin was minus-two. St. Louis did score a hard-fought power-play goal in the second period to put the Rangers up 3-1, but the pair was on the ice for both the Kings' goals in the third period as well as the overtime winner.
Alain Vigneault should be able to count on the two veteran Stanley Cup winners for a better defensive performance in such big-game situations. They'll need to be more responsible against the dangerous Los Angeles offense, especially late in the game, if the Rangers hope to stop the Kings' runaway train of momentum and get themselves back into this series.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.