The Los Angeles Kings were just a few inches away from taking Game 4 of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final into overtime. It would have been the third time in four games that the Kings staged a miraculous comeback in regulation.
But with a little bit of luck with the puck here and there, the New York Rangers managed to win a game against the surging California team.
Most thought the Blueshirts were done after swimming in similar waters in the semifinals, down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They were wrong.
Most are thinking that despite how well they managed to prevent the Kings from taking the puck to the net in Game 4, their fate has been sealed.
It’s no secret that many experts believe the two best teams have already faced off in this year’s playoffs, and neither team is from New York. Whether it was prior to the puck drop of Game 1 or with a 3-1 series lead, this has always Los Angeles’ series to lose. That doesn’t mean the Rangers are just going to bow out quietly, though. They still have plenty to play for.
Here is what the Rangers need to do to stay alive.
The Rangers managed to show something in Game 4 that they hadn’t been able to since the Pittsburgh series—composure.
Though the rest of the men on the ice certainly did their part in preventing the Kings from dashing New York’s dreams of its fourth championship, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s performance from Wednesday night should provide some much-needed alleviation heading into Friday’s Game 5.
New York needs to trust in its veteran goaltender, whose .926 save percentage in the 2014 postseason is a big reason it's still here.
He'll allow his share of goals, but that's OK—he doesn't need to be perfect for his team to succeed against Los Angeles. If Lundqvist can perform like he did in Game 4 and keep the Rangers close, they have a chance to steal a win in Game 5 and keep their season alive by taking it one game at a time.
As Kenny Albert pointed out, the team that attempted fewer shots has won the past two games.
While the odds of scoring more goals are probably in your favor if you attempt more shots, there's something to be said about being a team that knows when to shoot and how to score.
No team in sports wants to be down 3-1 in the finals, especially not when Game 5 is played in front of thousands of people in attendance to watch players from the other team hoist the trophy above their own heads.
The desperation should be on Los Angeles' shoulders; the Kings have dropped too many games overall in this year’s playoffs and know how quickly things can turn around. Everyone expects them to notch that one last win.
They lost three straight to the San Jose Sharks in the first round before capping off a miraculous comeback that only three other teams have accomplished in NHL history. They also managed to drop three straight to their neighbors in Anaheim—after winning the first two games—before taking the final two as their ticket into the Western Conference Final with the Chicago Blackhawks.
New York has nothing to lose and must capitalize on any mistakes the Kings might make, which will only increase the pressure on L.A.
Learn from Ducks and Sharks
Physical play was something the Kings had trouble dealing with in their series against the Anaheim Ducks this postseason. It worked well for the Ducks and, when they've been able to do so, it's worked well for the Rangers.
As mentioned, no other team has had as much success against Los Angeles this postseason than its Northern California counterpart. But the Sharks weren't able to get beyond certain disagreements on the ice, ultimately plaguing their ability to cap off the sweep.
With a Kings championship in plain sight, the Rangers have nothing to lose. Playing with more physicality and taking the good calls with the bad is something only the Rangers can afford.
If the Rangers want to find themselves in the history books, they’d better take advantage of any benefit they can get their hands on. A good way to do that is to play physical hockey from start to finish.