Los Angeles Kings vs. New York Rangers Game 4: Keys for Each Team
The Los Angeles Kings have a chance to make short work of the New York Rangers as they try to capture the 2014 Stanley Cup with a four-game series sweep on Wednesday.
After a long playoff road, it's ironic that the Kings find themselves in position to complete such a short final. The 2014 Kings are the first team in NHL history to win three straight seven-game series to advance to the final round, playing every possible game along the way. They've won three straight against the Rangers and are now on the cusp of a championship.
For their part, New York will come out trying to win a Stanley Cup Final game at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Vancouver Canucks were defeated in a nail-biting Game 7 in 1994. In a Stanley Cup elimination game, everything will be on the line.
Here's a look at the potential hurdles each team will face in Game 4, along with their keys to victory.
Key for Los Angeles: Play Like They're Down 3-0
As the Los Angeles Kings found new ways to wage comebacks throughout the 2014 playoffs, it's easy to forget that they had a much easier road to the Stanley Cup when they were the eighth-seeded underdogs back in 2012.
Those Kings dominated each series from the opening puck drop, building 3-0 leads in every round on their way to defeating the Vancouver Canucks in five games, then the St. Louis Blues in four games, then the Phoenix Coyotes in five.
Los Angeles also went up 3-0 against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, dropping the next two contests before finally claiming the Cup with a decisive Game 6 win.
Justin Williams says the Kings learned from what happened against the Devils: "I think potentially, maybe not everyone, but there were some issues that maybe got us sidetracked a little bit," he said (via Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press via Yahoo Sports). "The thought of winning a Cup, being one game away, family issues, ticket issues, all that stuff. That can maybe sidetrack you from the end result."
For all their playoff heroics in 2014, the Kings haven't been able to take the easy road. They squandered a 2-0 series lead against the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, then let the Chicago Blackhawks bounce back from a 3-1 deficit in Round 3 before finishing them off.
With a comfortable three-game cushion against the Rangers and facing the distractions that Williams identifies, will the Kings let up again? Or will they finally show some killer instinct and earn a decisive sweep to complete their long Stanley Cup journey?
Key for New York: Don't Give in to Defeat
Though the Rangers outshot the Kings 32-15 in Game 3, including 11-2 in the third period, the team seemed resigned to defeat long before the final buzzer sounded. New York needs to wipe away those memories and come to Game 4 with a clean slate to have any hope of staying alive.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's pretty much impossible to be upbeat," Rangers center Brad Richards told the assembled media on Tuesday (from NHL.com), "But you have to be professional. The series is not over."
Not exactly the words of someone who thinks the best is yet to come.
Though hockey is often a big man's game, the smallest Rangers seem to have the most hope as the going gets tough. At 5'7", Mats Zuccarello was one of the few Blueshirts to give a 60-minute effort on Monday, leading the Rangers with six hits and recording four shots on goal.
Martin St. Louis had just one shot and was a minus-one, but the experienced veteran and 2004 Stanley Cup champion understands that the Rangers are still in an enviable position. From Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press via Yahoo Sports, St. Louis said "There's 28 teams that would love to be in our place right now: The Stanley Cup Final, down three and still be alive."
Coach Alain Vigneault is keeping his message simple. "We have to focus on one game and that's what we're going to do."
Key for Los Angeles: Quick Stays Dialed in
After allowing four goals or more in four of five games leading into Game 3, the streaky Jonathan Quick flipped the script like he did in the Kings' first-round comeback against the San Jose Sharks, suddenly becoming impenetrable.
Here, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN breaks down the goaltending matchup so far in the Stanley Cup Final:
All the Kings needed from Quick entering the Cup finals was to make sure he was as good as Henrik Lundqvist and not allow the Rangers star goalie to steal the series. Two periods through Game 2, it appeared that Lundqvist was getting the upper hand over Quick.
Six consecutive Kings goals later, not only is Quick holding his own, he has in fact outplayed Lundqvist to this point.
Quick was the difference-maker for the Kings when they won the Stanley Cup in 2012, and has the Conn Smythe Trophy to prove it.
This year, he's been much more inconsistent, leaving the suddenly bountiful Kings offense with the responsibility of keeping the playoff dream alive—even against formidable foes like Lundqvist.
After a 2012-like performance during Game 3 on Monday, Quick will be forgiven for every bad goal along the way if he can repeat the feat just one more time on Wednesday.
Key for New York: Capitalize on the Power Play
Los Angeles served up plenty of chances for the Rangers to get a foothold in Game 3, taking six penalties over the course of the game. New York pressured with 10 power-play shots, but couldn't get a single puck past Jonathan Quick.
I thought [Kings defenseman] Matt Greene was good, had a really solid game, but they didn't make him chase it around like they did in Game 1. I think the Rangers have to adjust a little on the power play to force L.A. to come back down. They got lots of control, took point shots, but they need to threaten L.A. with a low play.
Underproducing winger Rick Nash saw more than two minutes of power-play time on Monday, and knows the Rangers need to win the special-teams battle. “Special teams is the difference in this league and we’ve got to make sure we keep goals out of our net and put them in when we’re on the power play,” Nash told Steven Lorenzo of the New York Daily News. “In the regular season, the playoffs, the Final, you need to have your special teams clicking. To score a power-play goal is a huge deal.”
The Rangers went 0-for-36 with the man advantage earlier in the playoffs. If their latest power outage continues, it could spell the end of their season.
Key for Los Angeles: Stick to Their Style
Though the Kings' 3-0 win in Game 3 didn't match the high drama of the first two games in the series, it did hew much closer to the playing style that Los Angeles is known for.
Rather than needing to engineer another crazy comeback, L.A. took advantage of the good fortune on Jeff Carter's last-second goal in the first period to ground down the Rangers.
They also whittled down the early-game turnovers that had put them in a hole during the first two games of the series. In Game 2, the Kings gave the puck away a whopping 33 times. On Monday, that number dropped to seven.
Jarret Stoll admitted to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com that Game 3 might not have been as much of a thrill ride for fans, "But we were feeling it, we were rolling our lines, 25-35 seconds [shifts], just keeping the tempo high. We controlled the neutral zone, we got pucks in behind their D and that was our game plan."
If the Kings can play their game one more time, they'll be showing off the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
Key for New York: Defy the Odds
The New York Rangers' road of hope starts with the 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs, the only team ever to have bounced back from a 3-0 deficit to win the Stanley Cup.
History shows that it can be done, even if the playoffs back then only lasted two rounds in a six-team league.
The Rangers can also draw inspiration from their own unlikely 3-1 comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this spring. They looked at least as lifeless falling 4-2 to the Penguins in Game 4 as they did on Monday night against L.A.
The Kings have earned most of the press this spring for their record-setting playoff comebacks, but the Rangers have shown some impressive resilience themselves.
After a disastrous 3-6 start under a new coach at the beginning of the regular season, the Rangers recovered nicely to finish second in their division. They're also one of the first teams in NHL history to win seven-game series in each of its first two rounds, then win their conference final to advance to the Cup Final. No team had ever accomplished that feat before 2014. This year, both New York and Los Angeles pulled it off.
If the Rangers need to be reminded that nothing is impossible in these Stanley Cup playoffs, all they'll need to do on Wednesday is look over at the opposition's bench.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.