Kings vs. Rangers: Game 3
Last night’s Stanley Cup Final Game 3 was an event 20 years in the making for the New York Rangers and their fans. Since the glory days of ’94, the Blueshirts had been accustomed to several high priced Broadway flops (*cough* Bobby Holik, Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure to name a few *cough*), a dry spell between 1997 and 2004 commonly referred to as “The Dark Ages” and recent playoff mediocrity. Finally, there were hosting a game in the biggest series of all. The aforementioned factors all helped contribute to make the game the highest grossing sporting event in StubHub’s history, with get-in ticket prices approaching the $1000 mark. The city of New York was more than ready for the Cup Final to return, but a certain team from Los Angeles had different plans.
For 19 minutes and 59.3 seconds, the first period was nothing more than a well-played draw. The shot count was low for both teams, but the opportunities were there and both groups asserted themselves well physically and on the forecheck. Everybody at home and in the stands was ready to get up and stretch their legs following what appeared to be the first scoreless initial period of the series, but instead learned the valuable lesson that every shift truly does matter. Rick Nash could not get the puck deep into the Kings’ zone, and they came back on a quick counterattack that left the Rangers’ defense discombobulated, leading to Jeff Carter’s buzzer beater that caromed in off of a sliding Dan Girardi’s skate. The Garden was left silent, sensing another strong performance for the Rangers was not paying off on the scoreboard.
Period two featured a telling momentum shift towards the Los Angeles bench. A pair of early Rangers high-sticking penalties did them in a second time, as Jake Muzzin uncorked a point shot that deflected off Marty St. Louis’ glove and past Henrik Lundqvist for LA’s second power play goal of the series and a 2-0 lead. Down two, the Rangers sought to do exactly what the Kings had done to them in the first two games: erase the deficit and win. They certainly came with intent in the middle frame, putting 17 high quality chances Jonathan Quick’s way, only to be denied every time. The dagger came at 17:14, as Mike Richards buried a 2 on 1 opportunity that Ryan McDonagh seemed to have defended well. Another bounce for the Kings, another goal and an even more downtrodden MSG.
The third period was much ado about nothing, as no goals were scored either way and the outcome never was in doubt despite the hopes and prayers of the home crowd. Quick made the final 11 stops of his 32 save shutout in his Madison Square Garden debut, brilliantly defending the same nets that his boyhood idol and fellow American Mike Richter backstopped for those legendary 1994 Rangers. His two best denials on the night both came using the paddle of his stick, as he incredibly stopped Mats Zuccarello at the crease while the game was still scoreless in the first and later preserved a 2-0 lead by stoning Derick Brassard during the Rangers’ biggest push of the night. He certainly helped his own cause by resembling a brick wall, but this was a full 60 minute team effort for the group in black and white. The defense clogged up the neutral zone and took away New York’s speed, while they were opportunists offensively and provided Quick with more than enough goal support. Needless to say, it was certainly a performance you would expect out of a team participating in the Stanley Cup Final.
On the Rangers side of things, the loss left the room searching for answers afterwards. Many referred to the need “to create their own bounces” when asked about the Kings’ significantly greater puck luck. There was no talk of giving up or feeling sorry for themselves, though. St. Louis was absolutely correct in saying earlier today during media availability that there are “28 other teams that would love to be” where the Rangers are right now. While the chances are slim, they are not nonexistent. They have already mounted a major comeback with their backs against the wall in their second round series with Pittsburgh, and can look at the opponent across from them for inspiration. That’s right, the same Los Angeles Kings that are now one victory away from their second Stanley Cup in three years once upon a time were down 3-0 in their first round series with the Sharks. Either that, or they’ll have to channel their inner 1942 Maple Leafs, who are the only team to accomplish that feat with the Cup on the line when they shocked the Red Wings. Lord Stanley will now be in amongst the crowd the rest of the way, starting with tomorrow night’s Game 4, set for an 8:00 start on the NBC Sports Network.