Sleep was understandably hard to come by for the New York Rangers on Monday night.
They had just lost Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final to the Los Angeles Kings in demoralizing fashion, falling into a 3-0 series hole that feels nearly impossible to dig out of. By Tuesday morning it was clear there was more tossing and turning than turning the page.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s pretty much impossible to be upbeat,” alternate captain Brad Richards said.
Upbeat would be just about the last word anyone could use to describe the Rangers, who will find themselves on the eve of potential elimination in Game 4 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Despondent, defeated and devastated were more like it.
Coach Alain Vigneault knows there’s no sense hiding from those emotions.
“We’re down 3-0. We’re all lacking sleep. This is tough,” Vigneault said. “Excuse us if today we’re not real cheery.”
There isn’t much for the Rangers to be cheery about. Not after two overtime defeats in Los Angeles and one back home that included allowing a goal with 0.7 seconds left in the first period and being unable to crack Jonathan Quick.
Reality seemed to set in by the third period of Game 3 as many fans who paid a premium price to attend the first Cup final game at the Garden in 20 years had already left the building.
Even as players talked on Tuesday about bad bounces and the luck the Kings have enjoyed, there’s not much solace in being a couple of fortunate turns from maybe even leading this series.
“However we might want to look at this, we could be up by two games to one instead of being down by three, etc., it doesn’t matter,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault, whose Vancouver Canucks blew a 3-1 series lead to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 final, boiled it down to one game. The task of winning four in a row now is too daunting to think about.
Even the prospect of trying to win one game might be, considering the methodical way the Kings took care of the Rangers on Monday night. Quick was brilliant, and there were not many moments in the final 40 minutes when it looked like New York even had a chance.
“It’s pretty boring, nothing flashy, but we’ll take it,” Kings centre Anze Kopitar said afterward.
Captain Dustin Brown called it “more our style.” If Los Angeles is able to duplicate that in Game 4, the Stanley Cup should be getting ready for its close-up.
Kings players who spoke to reporters Tuesday oozed the kind of quiet confidence that typifies champions. The bulk of this group has been here before, and even though Los Angeles lost two straight in this spot in 2012 against the New Jersey Devils, there’s a sense that players learned something from those extra cross-country flights.
“I think potentially, maybe not everyone, but there were some issues that maybe got us sidetracked a little bit,” winger Justin Williams said. “The thought of winning a Cup, being one game away, family issues, ticket issues, all that stuff. That can maybe sidetrack you from the end result.”
Williams expects the Rangers to make the Kings earn the Cup, just as the Devils did.
With that in mind, Conn Smythe front-runner Drew Doughty wants to play already. The only thing he was angsty about on an optional practice day was Game 4’s start time.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Doughty said. “It kind of sucks that the game is at 8 o’clock, waiting around during the day. You just want to get out there.”
The Rangers share that eagerness because, as Vigneault added when talking about his team’s sombre mood, “I can tell you we’re going to show up.”
Showing up hasn’t been the issue for the Rangers. They led Games 1 and 2 by multiple goals and outshot the Kings 32-15 in Game 3.
From the glass-half-full perspective, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist thinks that’s a sign that a comeback is doable.
“It’s not like we’ve been outplayed here, that’s not been the case,” Lundqvist said. “It comes down to a couple plays here and there. That’s been the difference in these games. But it starts with your belief and it starts with how you approach this game and the games after that.
“But they know it’s possible and we know it’s possible.”
Even as Lundqvist and some of his teammates tried to say all the right things, the self-doubt was evident from Richards, who could be playing his final game in Rangers blue on Wednesday.
Unlike many around him in the locker-room, Richards has been to the point where the Kings are now, on the verge of a championship. Even as the Rangers try to use coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins two rounds ago as a source of confidence, the 34-year-old can’t help but lose focus.
“It’s the waiting and thinking that’s the tough part,” Richards said. “Your mind is racing on a thousand different things on what you could do differently and what could have been.”
The Rangers will be better off focusing on what is. They’re one of two teams still playing, which still puts them in a better position than most teams in the league.
“There’s 28 teams that would love to be in our place right now: The Stanley Cup Final, down three and still be alive,” winger Martin St. Louis said.
St. Louis knows all too well this deficit is a “big mountain to climb.”
“Belief is everything,” he added.
Even that seemed to be in short supply for the Rangers, who are clinging to tunnel vision on Game 4.
“Whatever talk you might use, at the end of the day for us right now it’s about one game,” Vigneault said. “That’s as simple and logical and realistic as I can put it for you. We have to focus on one game and that’s what we’re going to do.”