LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Kings delivered their most dominant, thorough performance of the Stanley Cup Final in Game 4 against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
Their reward was a 2-1 loss and a flight home to play Game 5 on Friday night at Staples Center.
Here are three storylines for each team heading into a potential Cup-clinching game for the Kings, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-1.
Rangers’ Top Storylines
Getting Something from Rick Nash
It’s beginning to feel like the hockey world is picking on the highly paid right wing, but the fact remains that Nash has failed to produce throughout most of the postseason.
Through 24 games, he has three goals; they all came in the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens and were scored against Dustin Tokarski and Peter Budaj, two goaltenders who can’t be classified as starters.
Nash had a slew of chances in Game 4 and would have had his first goal of the postseason against a non-backup if not for a necessary tripping penalty taken by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. Nash had a great Game 4, but he wasn’t able to finish any of his chances.
"I mean, he's doing everything that I think you want from a player," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's going to the tough areas. He's shooting the puck. He's going hard on the forecheck. He's being physical. He's creating turnovers. You know, all I can say right now is I got to believe by playing the way he is right now, he will get rewarded. I'm hoping that's going to be (Friday)."
The Rangers got past the Flyers and Penguins in the first two rounds without a goal from Nash. Can they win three straight games against the Kings with nothing from him? Probably not, but only time will tell.
Henrik Lundqvist, Elimination Game Force
The New York Rangers have stared into the abyss five times in the playoffs, only to have Lundqvist stare back and say, “Not tonight.”
With the Rangers down 3-0 entering Game 4, Lundqvist had another unbelievable performance with his team on the brink. He made 40 saves to run his record to 5-0 in the 2014 playoffs with the Rangers facing elimination. He has allowed a single goal in each of those five games.
LAK outshot NYR 15-1 in the 3rd period. Lundqvist stopped the last 26 shots he faced.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) June 12, 2014
He has been equally good at home and on the road in these situations, winning three times at Madison Square Garden and twice in Pittsburgh to keep the Rangers’ season going.
If the Rangers are to come back and win this series, it will take more than an individual effort from Lundqvist, which was essentially what he offered in Game 4. But the Rangers feel comfortable knowing that when things are at their worst, he is usually at his best.
The (Again) Slumping Power Play
At one point during the postseason, the Rangers were 0-of-36 on the power play between the first and second rounds. The power play found its way once Chris Kreider returned from injury during the end of the second-round series with the Penguins and went 7-of-21 over a five-game stretch.
In the Final, it hasn’t been the cataclysmic horror show it was earlier, but it hasn’t been producing. In four games, the Rangers are 1-of-17 with the man advantage. The power play is 2-of-33 since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Giving the Rangers a powerplay is like unplugging their controller for two minutes.— Harrison Mooney (@HarrisonMooney) June 10, 2014
Vigneault has made his fair share of tweaks, taking Nash off the power play but then reinstating him for brief times when the forward was playing well at even strength. Brad Richards on the point has been a disaster, so Vigneault has repositioned him in the slot on occasion.
Benoit Pouliot’s goal in Game 4 technically wasn’t a power-play goal, as it came two seconds after a penalty expired. But the first unit with Richards has looked stagnant and has had trouble gaining the offensive zone, while the second unit has generated much better looks at the net.
A power-play goal in Game 5 could be the difference for the Rangers.
Kings’ Top Storylines
Get to Quick Early or Not at All
Jonathan Quick has allowed eight goals in four games, all in the first two periods. He has yet to allow a goal in the third period or overtime in this series, stopping 33 of 33 shots (but just one in Game 4).
That is a product of the Rangers sitting on leads and the Kings bludgeoning their opponents in terms of possession as games have progressed, but Quick has been flawless when it matters most.
Before Pouliot’s first-period goal in Game 4, Quick had a shutout streak of 123 minutes, one second. The goalie had his fair share of struggles and inconsistency earlier in the playoffs, but he has been far more reliable and at times excellent in this series.
With Quick’s penchant for shutting the door after two periods, perhaps a lead after two periods is all the Kings need to secure their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Will Fatigue Be a Factor Again?
Coach Darryl Sutter admitted his team was a little tired after Game 1, but the two days of rest entering Game 2 took care of that issue. It’s understandable if the Kings are feeling heavy-legged at this point in the season, as they’ve played three Game 7s in the postseason. Since 2012, no team has played more games than the Kings.
They have overcome sluggish and ordinary starts in this series, finding an extra gear later in games and controlling the ice against the Rangers. But after three games in five days and a pair of cross-country flights, will fatigue rear its head again?
"You got to realize what you're playing for, who you're playing, what it's all about and why you play the game," Jarret Stoll said in El Segundo, California, to reporters on Thursday, per NHL.com. "This is why you play the game. It doesn't matter how many games you play. You got energy, you got jump—you should [if] you realize what you're playing for. Yeah, it's a lot of games. But it's why we play."
Considering the Kings owned the Rangers after they fell behind 2-0 in Game 4, nothing indicates that a lack of energy is invading the Kings’ game. But after storming back from 2-0 deficits in Games 1 and 2, they couldn’t make it all the way back in Game 4.
If the Kings lose the ability to reach down deep to generate and finish chances late in games, falling behind early, like they have in three of four games, could become a problem.
The Ability to Close a Series
The Kings are in the Stanley Cup Final, so clearly they’ve closed a series on three occasions. But doing so while playing from ahead in a series has been a different animal.
Against the Sharks, the Kings overcame a 3-0 deficit by winning four straight. Against the Ducks, the Kings jumped to a 2-0 lead and lost three straight games before rallying to win the final two contests. They jumped to a 3-1 lead against the Blackhawks and needed a third Game 7 to win that series.
When holding a lead of more than one game in a series, the Kings are 1-3 in these playoffs.
Henrik Lundqvist on Game 5 opportunity: "If we win tomorrow, they're definitely going to feel the pressure."— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) June 13, 2014
It’s as if the Kings need that added pressure to slam the door on a series; otherwise, it gets far too boring for them.
The last thing any team wants to offer an opponent on the ropes is hope, but a loss in Game 5 could be the opening for the Rangers to begin believing in themselves again.
Prediction: Rangers 3, Kings 2
The New Jersey Devils were left for dead when they fell behind the Kings 3-0 during the 2012 Final, and they found a way to squeeze out two wins. The Rangers took the Kings' best punch in Game 4, so they'll respond in Game 5 and send the series back to New York.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.