New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 5: Keys for Each Team
The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have returned to Staples Center, where the Kings will take their second shot at securing the 2014 Stanley Cup on Friday.
With the deck stacked against them, Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers won their eighth straight elimination game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, narrowing Los Angeles' series lead to 3-1 and keeping their Stanley Cup hopes alive.
As the Rangers strive to match the Kings' reputation as the "cockroaches" that won't go away, Los Angeles hopes to deliver a Game 5 win for its growing fanbase and avoid the prospect of stretching the NHL's longest playoff year in history to a sixth or seventh game.
The Stanley Cup Final is heading down to the wire. Here's a look at the keys to victory for both teams in Friday's Game 5.
Key for New York: A Light-Hearted Approach
Eight weeks into the Stanley Cup playoffs, both players and coaches are running short on new ways to spin their thoughts for the media throngs that greet them every day.
Before Game 4, New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged that he didn't have any fresh words to apply to the motivational message his team would need as it faced elimination.
"I had my Netflix imitation ready for you guys today," he told the media at Wednesday's game-day press conference (from SI.com). "Nobody asked [for it]."
Vigneault and his Rangers hadn't hidden their gloomy moods after losing Game 3, so his sudden use of humor on the podium served as a stark contrast Wednesday. It also landed miles away from the ferocious intensity that John Tortorella was known for when he ran the New York Rangers bench just one year ago.
If Vigneault's light touch helped get the Rangers ready to play—and win—Game 4, he'd better stick with that approach going forward.
As the coach in the commercial explains, "You remember what he said?"
"Well, that, gentlemen, is what I'm saying!"
By this point, does he really need to say more?
Key for Los Angeles: Crank Up the Hits
The Los Angeles Kings may not have won the first three games of their Stanley Cup Playoff journey this spring, but they came out with thunderous physicality that eventually wore down the San Jose Sharks.
In Game 1 of Round 1, Los Angeles laid an astonishing 69 hits on San Jose. That's a rate of more than one hit per minute of play.
As the playoffs have ground on, that level of physical play has diminished to the point where they've been outhit by the Rangers in the last three games. The hit totals were 51-50 in favor of New York in Game 2, 25-18 in Game 3 and 32-27 in Game 4.
L.A.'s Dustin Brown leads the playoffs with 119 hits, followed by teammate Jarret Stoll with 93, but it was the Rangers and their fans that got a boost in the first period of Game 4 from a bone-cruncher by Ryan McDonagh on Justin Williams.
The Kings' long playoff road may have whittled away their willingness to take the body. If they can play heavy one more time on Friday, that should be all they'll need to finish the task at hand and start resting up during their summer vacation.
Key for New York: Curtail Dan Girardi's Defensive Woes
What has happened to the normally steady Dan Girardi in the Stanley Cup Final? Adren Zwelling of Sportsnet.ca can't come up with a more plausible explanation than bad karma:
Dan Girardi can’t figure it out. He’s done work with numerous charities. He treats everyone he encounters with kindness and respect. He truly believes he’s a good person. But for some reason or another, it seems the New York Rangers defenceman has accumulated a great deal of bad karma—and for the past week its been exacting its vengeance on the ice.
In the final, Girardi made the defensive gaffe that handed the puck to Justin Williams for the overtime winner in Game 1. He was the rearguard whose skate redirected Jeff Carter's last-second shot past a startled Henrik Lundqivst and the end of the first period of Game 3. Then, he was the blueliner whose stick suddenly broke midway through Game 4, sending Dustin Brown in on a breakaway to lift the Kings back into the game.
Going into Game 5, Girardi has been on the ice for seven straight goals allowed by the Rangers—the last three goals from Game 2, all three goals in Game 3 and Brown's lone tally in Game 4.
He's playing big minutes on the top defensive pair with Ryan McDonagh and contributing in other ways, but New York must find a way to free Girardi from the dark cloud that's hovered over him throughout the series.
Key for Los Angeles: Maintain the Urgency
The Kings outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the third period of Game 4, looking for just one goal. Thanks to great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and a pile of slush on the goal line, this time Los Angeles wasn't able to force the game into the extra frame.
Once the losses start for the Kings, they tend to multiply: The only time the Kings have flipped their fortunes after just one loss in these playoffs was after Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Los Angeles holds a comfortable 3-1 series lead, but needs to banish that thought.
As winger Trevor Lewis wrote in his blog on NHL.com, "I think we need to try and play like we are down 3-1 in the series and not up 3-1."
As perfect as they've been in Game 7 situations in these playoffs, L.A. is only 1-2 in Game 5 through the first three rounds, with the lone win coming when they were facing elimination against the San Jose Sharks in Round 1.
If they let Game 5 slip away on home ice at Staples Center, the plot of the series will change considerably.
Key for New York: King Tops Kings
There was no doubt about who earned the title of first star in Game 4.
After watching counterpart Jonathan Quick stymie his Rangers in Game 3, "King" Henrik Lundqvist took a page out of Quick's book, getting better as the game went on and slamming the door despite constant pressure in the third period.
Lundqvist's focus hasn't been at its best throughout this series, but he responded magnificently from his team's disheartening Game 3 loss with a goaltending performance that single-handedly kept the Rangers alive.
The thought of the Kings celebrating a Stanley Cup victory at Madison Square Garden provided an extra level of motivation for Lundqvist.
“Just the thought of it made me," Lundqvist said, pausing and shaking his head in utter relief, “sick,” Katie Strang of ESPN.com reported.
If Lundqvist can carry his distaste for playing second-fiddle over to Los Angeles, the Rangers could climb right back into this series on Friday night.
Key for Los Angeles: Rise Above the Hand of Fate
Coach Alain Vigneault wasn't shy about crediting otherworldly powers for a helping hand in the Rangers' Game 4 win Wednesday.
"I've been in the game a long time to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there," he told reporters after the game (from Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times). "They were there tonight."
"Puck luck" has been a constant theme throughout a series where the games are being decided by the smallest of margins, but the Los Angeles Kings are having none of it.
"Puck luck is for cop-outs," said forward Justin Williams back in Los Angeles on Thursday (from Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo.com). "I don’t believe in it at all. I think you get what you put into it. Last night, we simply weren’t good enough."
Drew Doughty echoed similar sentiments when speaking with the press right after the game (from Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun):
We thought were going to tie it back up. We had full confidence that we were going to do it. We had plenty of opportunities to do it. Pucks were laying on the goal line. We gave it a lot in the third but we slacked a bit in the first and that’s why we lost.
If the Kings have it their way, they'll dish out a decisive victory Friday. They won't want to tarnish their Stanley Cup win with the spectre of lucky bounces.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.