(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
The New York Rangers saved themselves from a sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings with a little luck and a lot of persistence. As usual, the Rangers took the early lead, but finally they were able to hold it to finish a 2-1 win. The third period was more harrowing than any we have seen so far in this series, with the Rangers managing only one shot on goal to the Comeback Kings’ 15. After the game, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was asked about that third period:
It was a battle, the whole game. When they turn it up, you need to rely on your teammates and some luck. We’ve been talking about it all series: to beat this team, you need some sort of puck luck and we definitely had it tonight.
The win set a new NHL record, as the Rangers are now 8-0 in elimination games at home since 2008. Lundqvist has been in net for all of those wins.
Wednesday, Lundqvist made 40 saves on 41 shots. At the other end, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick only faced 19 shots and gave up two goals. It was a reversal from Game 3, where the overworked Quick stood on his head for the win and Lundqvist couldn’t catch a break despite seeing far fewer shots. After the game, Lundqvist talked about the team’s mindset:
Whatever happens, we’re winning this game. We’re not losing two at home. We want to get back in this series… it’s not impossible, they’ve done it, we came back from 3-1, but you need to be so smart playing against this team. They’re good and they almost trick you sometimes, you think you have under control and they make a couple of quick plays and create something out of basically nothing.
The Kings were the faster team out of the gate. After five minutes, the Kings had three shots on goal, the Rangers none. The Rangers’ first shot had promise, with Rick Nash going to the net. Derrick Stepan’s shot from the half wall went off of Drew Doughty’s stick and fluttered into Jonathan Quick for a whistle.
A few moments later, the Kings took the game’s first penalty. The Rangers’ power play was very controlled, though they took shots with caution. The strategy did at least keep the puck away from the Kings, but it was almost a minute before the Rangers had a good chance, only to be thwarted by Quick.
The penalty had just expired when New York’s Benoit Pouliot scored with deflected a shot from John Moore at the blue line.
The Kings’ first power play came from a delay of game call, when Anze Kopitar pressured Mats Zuccarello into throwing the puck over the glass. The Kings’ best chance came early in the power play, when a puck crept by Lundvquist but Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman got his stick behind it and swept it out, despite having to compete with Jeff Carter, who was trying to push the puck over the line.
It was a good thing the Rangers scored when they did, because for the last 11+ minutes of the first, their triggers were malfunctioning. They got credit for no shots in the second half of the period. The Kings, meanwhile, kept Lundqvist moderately busy, but they did not beat him in the first.
Over seven minutes and a bundle of penalties had gone in the second when the Rangers stretched their lead to two. A fast zone entry by the Rangers ended with a shot from Derek Stepan that fluttered off of Quick, to be put away by Marty St. Louis.
That got the house jumping, and a little extra zip in the Rangers’ step earned them another power play. The Kings threw themselves into the penalty kill and took a couple of short-handed shots, without straying too far from their own blue line. Lundqvist handled those neatly.
Once the Kings killed off that penalty, they started to chip away at the Rangers’ lead. Kings captain Dustin Brown got by Dan Girardi at the Kings blue line, thanks to a broken stick for Girardi. He was able to carry the puck in mostly unmolested, and beat Lundqvist with a late shot.
That goal seemed to open the floodgates for the Kings. The next few minutes showed the Rangers facing onslaught after onslaught from Kings’ forecheckers. The Rangers did manage to hold the zone finally around the 12 minute mark, and generate a few chances before the puck went out of play.
The Kings then found themselves being pretty effectively ejected from the Rangers’ zone, and were limited to one and dones, while the Rangers at least held the offensive zone for longer than one shot. The Kings’ 70s line of Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter broke that pattern and maintained steady pressure against the Rangers, controlling the puck and peppering Lundqvist with shots. The Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Dwight King line followed up by drawing a penalty that put Dominic Moore in the box for cross-checking.
The penalty kill was made more challenging by another broken stick, this time for Rick Nash. A shot deflected out of play and stopped play before that became much of an issue. After 90 seconds, the Kings’ power play only had one shot on goal. Nash and Stepan were able to kill some time with a short-handed foray to end the penalty kill.
The Rangers missed an opportunity when Quick went behind the net and got tangled up in traffic. The Kings burrowed in and made a shot impossible for the Rangers. Right after that, Jeff Carter broke away in the last minute but this time Lundqvist won the one-on-one contest to keep the Rangers ahead.
The period ended with Los Angeles leading in shots 26-17, 15-11 for the period.
The Kings did not slow down in the third, but the Rangers did not lie down either. Henrik Lundvist had to make some tough saves through traffic in the first ten minutes. One shot from Tyler Toffoli looked dangerous, and it was an expensive shot for the Kings. Marian Gaborik was flattened by Rick Nash behind the net, after getting the puck out to Toffoli.
The Rangers seemed to be repeating the Kings’ third from the last game, clinging to the one goal lead by the skin of their teeth. In the last minutes, Derek Stepan saved a goal by pushing the puck under his goalie with a glove. The referee was in good position to verify that Stepan did not close his hand over the puck.
The Kings pulled Quick in the last 1:11, and an empty net shot from the Rangers’ zone by Brian Boyle went just wide. It didn’t matter, the Rangers held on for the last minute despite some mad scrambles in front of Lundqvist.
Asked whether the team felt like the puck was finally bouncing in their favor, Dominic Moore said:
Definitely when the puck lays on the goal line and doesn’t cross you feel a bit fortunate. But personally I feel like you can’t really think about breaks going one way or the other, you just got to continue to earn your breaks. Hopefully … tonight’s something we can build off in terms of doing some things well and we’ll see what happens next game.
Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers in time on ice with 28:10. Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan each took three shots, and no Ranger took more. Dan Girardi blocked six shots for the team lead. Dominic Moore was the best Ranger in the faceoff circle at 47%.
Tanner Pearson led the Kings in shots with eight. Jake Muzzin led the team with five blocked shots, and Drew Doughty led the team in minutes with 26:45. Justin Williams was pointless for the first time in five games.
Game 5 will be played in Los Angeles on Friday at 5 pm PT.