The coronation is going to have to wait for these Kings.
But perhaps not long.
The New York Rangers eked out a win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final by the thinnest of margins on Wednesday night, getting two goals early and then hanging on for dear life as the Los Angeles Kings came roaring back.
It had started with the same script as earlier in the series, when the Kings pulled off two-goal comebacks repeatedly – four times in all – to win the first two games in overtime.
This time, they couldn’t, thwarted by some spectacular goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and the hockey gods, who finally saw fit to give the Rangers a few bounces of their own in what became an ugly 2-1 win.
It’s what New York had said they needed – some puck luck – and did they ever get it here.
This wasn’t a game they deserved to win. But they did.
“It wasn’t our best game, but at the same time we got the win and that's what we needed,” Rangers defenceman Anton Stralman said.
“They threw everything they had at us,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault added, calling it the Kings best game of the series. “Our goaltender stood tall, gave us a chance. We have another chance. We get to play.”
Survival is all New York really accomplished here, but that’s all they needed.
Now it’s back to California we go for Game 5, where we’ll learn if this is going to be a slight delay of the inevitable or something more.
What’s clear is the Rangers have to be a whole lot better than this to make this win anything but a footnote.
New York opened the game’s scoring just seven minutes in, as big winger Benoît Pouliot deflected in a rising point shot just as an early power play expired.
The Rangers had needed that man advantage to sustain any pressure, too. At even strength, the game was all L.A., with centre Anze Kopitar going 9-0 in the faceoff circle as his team won more than 80 per cent of its draws and essentially owned the puck in the early going.
Unlike earlier in the series when they put eight goals past him in the first two games, what they couldn’t manage was to solve Lundqvist, despite a shot advantage that crept up and up as the night wore on.
Martin St. Louis then gave the Rangers some breathing room six minutes into the second, deftly dropping the puck off at the blueline and going hard to the net, where he picked up his eighth of the postseason after teammate Chris Kreider caused havoc in front of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
Those 2-0 leads have been anything but safe – in this postseason and especially in this series – but it held up here, even after Kings captain Dustin Brown burned in on a breakaway two minutes later to pull them within a goal.
“The first thought was ‘Here we go again,’ ” Lundqvist said.
Brown’s goal came on another unfortunate play for Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi, who had the wooden knob of his composite stick crack in half right when Brown was pressing him on the blueline.
It rarely happens. In fact, he had only seen it once before.
Along with teammate Brad Richards, who was bumped down to the fourth line, Girardi has been New York’s biggest weak point, a scab the Kings have been picking all series by playing the puck into his corner and battering him along the boards.
At 2-1, the game turned into the Kings versus the King, with Lundqvist facing a barrage of odd-man rushes and breakaway attempts that he somehow managed to turn away.
“Hen-reek,” the MSG faithful bellowed, again and again.
It was all they had to cheer, given New York had one shot in the third period.
L.A. had 15 – including one with a minute to play that sat on the goal line as every skater on the ice dog-piled in front of the Rangers goal while Derek Stepan shoved the puck under his goalie using his glove.
It somehow stayed out.
“Thank God for soft ice now and then,” Vigneault said afterwards, a nod to Madison Square Garden’s often slushy surface. “He got and we got a few bounces. You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit.”
“I felt good tonight,” Lundqvist said. “I must say, I felt pretty good in every game. It’s just tonight, we had the bounces.”
“I've been in the game a long time to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there,” Vigneault added. “They were there tonight.”
They may need to keep praying.
After all, the Kings have been here before. They were up three games to none against the New Jersey Devils in the final two years ago, well on their way to steamrolling through another series in a very different run from this one.
But distractions crept up – their families had been flown into town for Game 4 (as they were on Wednesday in New York), tickets were scarce and the Kings’ minds were more on making history than winning a hockey game – and the Devils crept back in the series.
The Kings narrowly lost Game 4. And Game 5.
Then Los Angeles smartened up and blew them out 6-1 at Staples Center, finally ending the drama and winning their first Cup.
The majority of that team is still intact, too, and they’ve claimed the past two days to have learned their lesson.
Don’t give a team hope – or it can get away from you.
“We just want to win one game,” Hagelin had said after the morning skate, back when there wasn’t a whole lot of hope emanating from the Rangers room. “After that, we can start focusing on other stuff. Right now, we don’t want to get swept.”
Mission accomplished there.
But the odds are awfully long they can do any more than that playing the way they did here.Report Typo/Error