After dropping close calls in the first three contests, the New York Rangers exhibited tremendous resiliency in taking Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final to extend their season.
Now, the Los Angeles Kings will receive the opportunity to clinch on home ice for the second time in three seasons. L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick has been tremendous thus far; combined with timely offense and superb penalty killing, the Kings have done just enough to take a commanding lead despite trailing for the vast majority of the series.
Headed back to the Staples Center, Vegas has Los Angeles as a minus-170 favorite, via OddsShark.com.
So what can fans expect from another potential Cup-clincher? Here are a few predictions for player performances on each side, as well as which team ultimately comes out on top.
Henrik Lundqvist Makes at Least 40 Saves
Entering the series, many thought the Rangers needed goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to stand on his head for the Blueshirts to have a realistic chance.
Apart from a lackluster Game 3, in which Lundqvist let in three goals on just 15 shots, the Swedish netminder has indeed been New York's best player, as ESPN New York's Katie Strang opines:
That desperation was evident when he made an unbelievable sprawling stop to seal the post and rob Jeff Carter on a breakaway with his left pad. It was abundantly clear when he remained composed despite two frenzied goal-mouth scrambles in the final minutes of the game.
“He’s been our best player throughout the whole playoffs, our most consistent player,” said defenseman Dan Girardi, whose stick broke on the Kings’ lone goal of the night. “When we were having some troubles in our own end, he was there to make the huge saves for us, and that’s what we needed tonight.”
Lundqvist has reached the 40-save barrier twice in this series, including New York's Game 5 win. In fact, his performance actually ranked as one of the best statistical showings in an elimination game in Final history:
The Rangers' goalie has been one of the best elimination-game performers in NHL history. On home ice, he is 8-0 with a sterling 0.99 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.
Even with the venue shifting west, expect Lundqvist to give his team another excellent shot at victory.
Drew Doughty Finds the Score Sheet
The Kings' defenseman had one of the signature plays of the series thus far, a beautiful deke that led to a tying goal in Game 1:
However, Doughty has failed to even record a point since then, and he sits at a stunning minus-four overall for the series. For a player who accrued 37 regular-season points and had a plus-17 rating, Doughty has been uncharacteristically impotent in the offensive zone this series.
In fairness, he has not necessarily played poorly. Doughty has been a huge difference-maker in the defensive zone, logging the heaviest minutes and demonstrating his usual stellar hockey IQ. ESPN's Craig Custance argues that Doughty is the front-runner for the Conn Smythe if the Kings do eventually clinch (subscription required):
Drew Doughty has been phenomenal for this entire playoff run. The Kings are a deep team, and different forwards have taken their turns being the hero each night. They get balanced scoring and everyone plays on both sides of the ice.
But Doughty has been the constant.
He’s been the player logging the most ice time. He’s the only player who has played over 600 minutes this postseason, and he’s actually well over it -- 679:27. That’s 28:18 per game.
Doughty would be the first defenseman to take home the award since Scott Niedermayer in 2007. In addition to his usual lockdown defense, expect Doughty to log at least one point as he solidifies his Conn Smythe campaign.
Facing seemingly insurmountable odds, the Rangers came back from 3-1 down against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, stealing two games on the road. Facing the same situation, it would be fallacious to doubt New York's resiliency.
Nonetheless, the Kings are simply a better all-around team. For many, their Game 4 loss only served to delay the inevitable:
Even with Lundqvist likely to turn in a stellar performance, Los Angeles' tough grinding style has worn on teams throughout their postseason run. With the Cup on the line, look for the Kings to pull out a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory.