NEW YORK — With all the talk of bounces during Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden, it’s understandable if you thought the news coming out of this series involved a trampoline tournament and not a hockey competition.
The Los Angeles Kings got the bounces in Game 3. To hear the New York Rangers tell it, the Kings have been getting the bounces, caroms, ricochets, deflections and glances throughout the first three games while the Rangers have been less fortunate to the point they qualify for free government cheese and tax credits.
Following the Rangers’ 2-1 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night, which staved off elimination for at least two days, perhaps the burgeoning narrative of luck deciding the outcome of games more than anything else can be put to rest, as it finally shined on the team that had yet to win a game in the Final.
The Rangers benefited from two things—yet another phenomenal performance from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in an elimination game and, well, what’s the opposite of a bounce?
First star of game: Lundqvist. Second star: slushy MSG ice around the goal line.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 12, 2014
The declining rate of an object’s momentum? “The Rangers are down 3-1 in this best-of-seven series thanks to the declining rate of an object’s momentum” isn’t quite as catchy as “luck,” but it’s why there will be a Game 5 in Los Angeles on Friday night.
“Obviously a couple times,” Lundqvist said, “You just have to rely on your teammates and luck.”
To the credit of Lundqvist, who made 40 saves, he did his part in the 90 seconds to preserve the lead and avoid overtime.
A spinning Alec Martinez whipped the puck toward the net. A cutting Tanner Pearson deflected the shot under Lundqvist, who froze like a deer in headlights, thinking the puck was safely nestled between his pads. To his shock and dismay, the puck had slithered near the goal line only to have a buildup of snow stop it in its tracks.
With Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar digging for gold with their sticks between Lundqvist's legs, Derek Stepan swiped the puck off the goal line and under Lundqvist with his glove.
“I thought I had it because I felt the puck, felt like I got a good piece of it on that deflection,” Lundqvist said. “I was yelling at the ref to blow the whistle. Then I realized it was behind me for a couple seconds. I actually apologized. But he was cool about it.”
"Don't fool yourself either,” Stepan said of the Rangers’ puck luck in Game 4. “Hank stood on his head. He made some big saves at big times for us. Those are the big plays that we need at certain moments to keep the momentum or shift the momentum. Hank stood tall and he's a big part of why we're going back to L.A."
Much the way Jonathan Quick was a wall in Game 3, allowing the Kings a chance to score three goals off beneficial bounces while being drastically outshot, Lundqvist played that role to near perfection in Game 4.
The Kings outshot the Rangers 41-19, and much like they did in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, ramped their attack into overdrive after falling behind 2-0. When Martin St. Louis scored early in the second period to put the Rangers ahead by two goals, the Kings had a 14-13 edge in shots.
Over the final 33:33 of the contest, the Kings outshot the Rangers 27-6.
Only a Dustin Brown breakaway goal would elude Lundqvist, who improved to 8-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average and .968 save percentage in his past eight elimination games at Madison Square Garden.
“I mean, we didn't want to see the Cup coming out on our home ice tonight,” Lundqvist said. “Just the thought of it makes me feel sick.”
When facing elimination this postseason, Lundqvist is 5-0 and has allowed a single goal in each game.
“He had to make some huge saves in the second and the third,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “He got and we got a few bounces. You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit.”
Stepan wasn’t the only Ranger to pull a puck off the goal line in this game. In the first period, with the Rangers shorthanded and leading 1-0, an Alec Martinez wrist shot got past Lundqvist, and the defenseman raised his arms in celebration.
This time, it was Anton Stralman scooping the puck to safety with his stick.
“It was a quick play on the power play there,” Stralman said. “I just saw the puck and all I tried to do basically was get the stick out, and obviously the puck as well.
“I got a little lucky and was able to save it.”
Anton Stralman has basically become the Smithers to Henrik Lundqvist’s Mr. Burns.— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) June 12, 2014
Maybe the luck narrative isn’t going away after all.
In reality, luck is going to come into play in a series with two evenly matched teams, which is what the Final possesses despite Los Angeles winning the first three games. Games 1 and 2 required overtime, although bounces had very little do with the Kings winning them.
The Kings had Quick and the bounces in Game 3; the Rangers had Lundqvist and the bounces in Game 4.
The Rangers can’t rely on Lundqvist the way they did in Game 4 if they want to win three more times and they can’t rely on luck, either.
There’s no guarantee the bounces will be there for the Rangers in Game 5 at Staples Center; the only certainty is that Lundqvist will be there with his back to the wall, which is when he has been at his best in these playoffs.
Defenseman Dan Girardi said it best: “He was the King tonight for us.”
All statistics via NHL.com.