After dropping the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final—the second loss a guttural blow at the hands of some questionable officiating—it would seem the New York Rangers have hit rock bottom.
Prior to the start of the series, numerous writers had no problem handing this series to the Los Angeles Kings in four or five games. Given the Kings' current 2-0 series lead, the odds are certainly stacked against the Rangers, but there is no reason for them or their fans to panic.
If anything, the Rangers should feel very confident at this point. Outside of a terrible third period in Game 1, they have skated with or been better than the Kings. The Rangers have led in this series for over 50 minutes of play, and the Kings have not held a lead during regulation in the series.
They do, however, hold a 2-0 series lead, and that is all that truly matters. While the lead is something the Kings can hold comfort in, throughout the playoffs they have shown the ability to pull a Jekyll and Hyde act quicker than a subway train passing underneath Madison Square Garden.
If Kings win Stanley Cup, how many games will it take?
Twice during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have dropped three games in a row.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Kings dropped the first three games to the San Jose Sharks before winning four in a row. They also won the first two games against the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, but they went on to drop three straight before winning the next two contests to take the series.
In the Western Conference Final, the Kings roared out against the defending Stanley Cup champs and took a 3-1 series lead, but they then dropped two games in a row before ultimately winning in Game 7.
What is the moral of the story here? Despite having a 2-0 series lead, the Kings are hardly in a dominant position. Time and time again during these playoffs, they have shown the propensity to drop a few games in a row. Mind you, they dropped these games against teams with worse goaltending than the New York Rangers.
They have also played in three Game 7s, and two of those games occurred because they failed to take control of a series in which they held a lead.
Yes, Henrik Lundqvist has allowed eight goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, but it is a lot more complicated than that. Jonathan Quick hasn't been at his best in the Final, but he has played just good enough to earn a win.
In Game 2, the Rangers were a few posts away from tying the series up at 1-1, and if the on-ice officials had properly disallowed Dwight King's goal for his violation of Rule 69, the Rangers likely would have won.
Initial frontal engagement by both players outside crease. McDonough posture to push King away from crease. pic.twitter.com/e4vp0OST7k— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) June 8, 2014
King plays off McDonough, slides left into crease, initiates contact w/Lundqvist, follows w/ a hop & roll#interfere pic.twitter.com/IP9q0fqPCL— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) June 8, 2014
There is no reason to dwell on that incident, though, because if the Rangers are going to get back into this series, they can't let it linger in their mind.
A common cliche during the playoffs is that a team is never in trouble in a series until it loses a home game. The Rangers will be back at home for Game 3 and Game 4, and if they win both games, they will be fine.
Up to this point the Rangers have lost games because of correctable mistakes like turnovers, along with being burned by some non-calls. The King incident was already explained, but there was another incident in Game 2 that hurt them.
Who will win the Stanley Cup?
During the second overtime period, the Kings clearly put a puck out of play without it hitting the glass, and the Rangers should have gone on the power play. The officials ruled that the puck deflected off the glass, and no penalty was called.
Less than two minutes later, Dustin Brown tipped home the game-winner, and that was all she wrote.
Granted, the Rangers did blow a pair of two-goal leads in the contest, but as mentioned above, they are correctable mistakes. They will benefit from playing at home because they will be able to match lines better. This should lead to desirable matchups and fewer turnovers.
If the Rangers keep playing their game and keep better control of the puck, they will have no problem winning Game 3. They have set the tone for a majority of the series, and despite a 0-2 hole, they should feel confident that they have forced three overtime periods against a team of the Kings' caliber.
No one is saying the Rangers are going to roar back and win four straight against the Kings en route to the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup. What is being said is that the Rangers are still very much in this series, because they have played well when all things are considered.
The first 10 minutes of Game 3 are going to be the most important of the season for the Rangers, and they need to keep the pressure on. A victory in Game 3 would change the dynamic of the series and set up a very pivotal and interesting Game 4.
The series could just as easily be 1-1 or 2-0 Rangers. As the series shifts back to New York and Madison Square Garden, the Rangers are bound to get a lift from their fans, and the Kings will look to avoid falling victim to another losing streak.
New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra famously said, "It ain't over till it's over," and this series is far from over.