It almost seems unfair that the New York Rangers are on the verge of being swept in the Stanley Cup Final.
In Game 1 New York took a 2-0 lead and never trailed; it lost in overtime. In Game 2 New York had 2-0 and 4-2 leads and never trailed; it lost in overtime. Even in Game 3, where a 3-0 Kings final tells the story of a dominant performance by the winning team, the result was closer than it appeared.
None of that matters. The Kings now boast a 3-0 series lead and have a very decent shot at posting the first four-game Stanley Cup Final win since 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Washington Capitals.
If anything, the closeness is just salt in the wound.
A look through the goals shows how close basically all of them were to going the other way:
Jeff Carter’s backbreaking goal with less than a second left in the first period gave the Kings a 1-0 lead. With a three-on-three rush and time running out, it should never have happened, but John Moore and Rick Nash inexplicably double-teamed Justin Williams. Dan Girardi’s block was either a fraction of a second too late or a fraction of a second too early and the lucky deflection beat Henrik Lundqvist.
The second goal was a long point shot that pinballed off Martin St. Louis and possibly Jeff Carter as well to beat the Rangers goalie:
Mike Richards scored the third goal:
At the second intermission he was asked by CBC’s Scott Oake about whether luck had played a role in giving the Kings the 3-0 lead.
“Yeah,” Richards agreed. “Obviously I was going to Trevor [Lewis].”
Naturally, some felt New York’s goaltending could have been better, but it’s awfully hard to fault Lundqvist on any of those goals. A heated exchange between TSN analyst Ray Ferraro and The Hockey News columnist Ken Campbell encapsulates the debate nicely:
@THNKenCampbell which of those goals would you like him to stop?— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) June 10, 2014
@THNKenCampbell three deflections ... hmmm...zero fault for me— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) June 10, 2014
@THNKenCampbell well I always think it makes it harder for him, in particular since they were 15 ft from the net but you don't obviously— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) June 10, 2014
As for the Rangers’ lack of goal-scoring, one Los Angeles Kings blogger provided some context:
The Rangers have 22 scoring chances and 0 goals tonight— Nick (@dightkwing) June 10, 2014
Corsis at EV play were 30-17 for New York. Quick was the entire difference in this one.— Nick (@dightkwing) June 10, 2014
There is a difference, of course, between catching the breaks and remarkable goaltending, but the Kings straddled the line on Monday night. Quick was exceptional in net, flashing the form he hasn’t shown very often in this postseason, which was the order of the day in L.A.’s 2012 Cup win. But even he had some moments during the game where the saves defied belief.
Notable among the latter was a Mats Zuccarello shot that hit the post, redirected across the net before hitting Quick’s stick and rolling out of danger. Perhaps even more remarkable was Quick’s ridiculous stick save on Derick Brassard:
Alain Vigneault’s postgame take on the Rangers’ key problem in the game spoke volumes despite its simplicity:
Alain Vigneault: "Couldn't score." /stares into nowhere, rubs chin— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) June 10, 2014
To be sure, the Kings deserve full credit for their strong work, in particular their resiliency in coming back from deficits in Games 1 and 2, and Jonathan Quick’s performance in Game 3. But they haven’t dominated this series; they eked out victories in the first two contests and needed the goalie to be at his very best in the third. It really wouldn’t have taken much for any of those games to have ended with a New York win.
That’s no comfort for the Rangers. They didn’t win three playoff rounds to put in a creditable performance in losing the fourth, and realistically, the gap between getting blown out in four straight 5-0 games or losing in overtime of Game 7 isn’t going to be nearly as wide a year from now as the gap between winning or losing, regardless of the score and the number of games involved.
Winning it all got a lot harder on Monday. All the Rangers can do is try to earn the split in New York; there’s no point in looking beyond that in any case, but especially because there may not be a "beyond that." One game at a time is a cliché for a reason: It’s the only realistic mindset for the team.
And it wouldn’t hurt at all if the bounces went the other way when Game 4 is played on Wednesday.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com.