The New York Rangers are down 3-0 in their series against the Los Angeles Kings, and mathematically speaking, their odds of winning the Stanley Cup are next to nothing. Only four teams in NHL history have overcome a 3-0 series deficit, leaving a tall task for New York if they want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. At the moment, the Blueshirts should be taking the series one game at a time, as the first three games have had the team making all the right moves, but simply not getting the bounces. A little help from the hockey gods will go a long way in helping the New York Rangers overcome the daunting challenge they now face.
The series could easily be 2-1 Los Angeles or possibly even in New York’s favor. New York outplayed the Kings in Games One and Two, but simply could not finish the job when needed. In the first game of the series, the Rangers showed the speed that got them to the Stanley Cup Finals and quickly took a 2-0 lead late in the first period. The speed of Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin caught many of the Los Angeles defenders off guard, allowing the shifty forwards to convert on their chances unhindered. At the time, it seemed the Kings had finally met their match, seemingly unprepared to handle New York’s transition game. To their credit, Los Angeles adjusted and played their game to steal the win. The Kings’ physical play wore down the Ranger players, causing costly turnovers that often ended up in the back of the net. Los Angeles forward, Justin Williams, was the hero in overtime, the beneficiary of a turnover by New York defender Dan Girardi.
The discussion in the New York locker room leading up to Game Two was about putting the first game in the rear view mirror.
“I think obviously whenever you make a play like that, that it costs the game, you’re gonna feel lower than you’ve ever felt before, to tell you the truth,” Girardi said in a practice before Game Two. “I think it’s great when the guys rally around you. That could happen to anyone, and that’s the type of team we are.”
The Rangers took that message to heart, once again quickly taking a 2-0 lead over the Kings at the end of the first period. Any time Los Angeles scored to bring the deficit to one, New York responded in kind, scoring just 11 seconds after the Kings made it 3-2 to take a two-goal lead going into the third. Again, the finish was not there for the Rangers, who saw that lead evaporate, though not without some controversy. Los Angeles was credited for a goal early in the third period, but replays showed Kings forward Dwight King preventing Lundqvist from even attempting to make the save. A textbook goaltender interference call was missed, and it quickly swung momentum in favor of Los Angeles. The Kings owned the rest of the third period, as well as the two overtime periods that followed. Los Angeles captain, Dustin Brown, ended Game Two after he deflected a shot by New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“Everyone is talking about how we come back, I think it’s more how we turn the tide of the game over the course of the game,” Brown said. “We’re not worried about scoring the game-winning goal. We’re worried about just playing our game, grinding away. It starts with one. That’s what our mentality is. Whether we’re down two, up two, the situation doesn’t change for us.”
With two overtime losses to their name, the Rangers were rightfully frustrated to find themselves in the hole they were in, and it was that frustration that lead to a Game Three loss. New York outshot Los Angeles 32 to 15, but loss the game 3-0. The Blueshirts controlled the play for the most part, but it was when they took their foot off the gas that the Kings converted their chances. Jeff Carter made it 1-0 with less than one second left in the first period, a time when many Ranger players seemed more concerned about reaching the locker room than playing the game. After the intermission, New York again found themselves in trouble as their two best defensemen, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, took consecutive high-sticking penalties early in the second. The Kings were again opportunistic, getting a powerplay goal by Jake Muzzin to bring the lead to 2-0. Late in the period, Mike Richards took advantage of a desperate push for offense by the Rangers, converting on an oddman rush to put the final nail in the coffin in Game Three.
“You try to stay positive right now, but it’s tough. It’s really tough,” Lundqvist said after the game. “I think we’re doing a lot of good things, but when you look at the goals, you know, we put two in our net and just a tough play on the third one. At some point you’re going to have to need some puck luck and we don’t have any right now. It feels like they have all of it.”
Lundqvist’s assessment is not too far off. The hockey gods have not been kind to New York in this series, and it is going to take some puck luck for the team to get back into it. Fortunately for the Rangers, if they continue to play the way they have been, the bounces will eventually go their way. No team has been swept in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1998, when the Washington Capitals failed to win a single game against a dominant Detroit Red Wings team. That series was simply a mismatch of talent, with Washington barely putting up a fight. The same cannot be said of this series. The New York Rangers need to take it one game at a time, focus on not getting swept, then worry about filling the hole they, and the hockey gods, have dug themselves into.
This article is one in a series, providing coverage, analysis, and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner