Madison Square Garden hosted its first Stanley Cup Final game in twenty years Monday night, but the party was shortlived as the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Rangers 3-0 to take a 3-0 series lead. Facing playoff extinction the Rangers will look to crawl off the mat Wednesday night when they host the Kings in Game Four of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at The Garden.
For the Rangers it was a bad combination of unfortunate bounces at one end of the ice and too much Jonathan Quick at the other. The Kings netminder turned in a gem, stopping all 32 shots he faced, including several of the outstanding variety. Meanwhile Henrik Lundqvist faced fewer shots than Quick, but was beaten twice on deflected shots and once by a shooter who was trying to pass, but ended up scoring a goal.
"I am just extremely disappointed we are in this hole," a dejected Lundqvist said after the game. "We have been talking about it after every game that we played really well, but in the end it's about finding ways to win. It's not about playing great, it's about winning. We have to regroup. It's not over."
After playing back to back overtime games out in Los Angeles where the Rangers felt they could have, at minimum, gained a split if not deserved to win both games--but instead winning neither, Monday's game was not played at the frenetic pace of the first two. Instead there was a slower pace and a more defense-oriented feel to the contest, with the Rangers having the better of the scoring chances, but the Kings being the team that was more opportunistic with its opportunities.
The Rangers had been on the receiving end of vicious kicks in the gut over the first two games--Justin Williams' Game One overtime winner and Dustin Brown's Game Two goal in double overtime--and Game Three on Monday provided another such moment, though it did not take until an overtime for it to arrive. On their way to a scoreless first period the Rangers were stunned as Jeff Carter scored with less than one second to play in the period--just a devastating way to reach the first intermission.
"It was a tough break, obviously," stated Anton Stralman. "On the other hand we came out and played a strong second period, put a lot of shots on Quick. It was a timely goal for them, but it didn't change our game."
Carter's shot seemed to have hit Dan Girardi's skate, causing just enough of a deflection to fool Lundqvist and give the Kings a 1-0 lead. The goal was Carter's tenth of the playoffs, and it gave LA its first lead, other than its overtime winners, in the series. It also silenced what had been a loud, raucous crowd.
"It's not the way you want to finish a period, but we talked about it, said it won't bother us--it's a quick little play that happens," stated Girardi, who played just under 22 minutes Monday. "I think it nicked off my steel. Half an inch higher it doesn't hit me, but that's just how it's going. It's disappointing, but we can't let a nick like that get you down."
The Blueshirts then opened the second period by taking back-to-back high-sticking minors--by Ryan McDonagh at 59 seconds and Marc Staal at 3:18. The first penalty was killed off by New York, the second was not as Jake Muzzin's slap shot deflected off a sliding Martin St. Louis and into the cage at 4:17, doubling the Kings lead.
More bad luck awaited Lundqvist later in the period when the Kings took off on a 2-on-1 rush after Girardi was caught pinching at the other end of the ice. Mike Richards entered the Rangers zone and tried to make a pass to his right, but McDonagh blocked the puck's path. Instead the puck came right back to Richards who followed by zipping a shot past Lundqvist, and the Kings had a 3-0 lead.
"Well you try and stay positive right now, but it's tough, it's really tough," said Lundqvist, who stopped 12 of 15 shots in Game Three. "We are doing a lot of good things, but you look at the goals and we put two in our own net and then just a tough play on the third one."
Meanwhile Quick was stopping anything and everything the Rangers threw at him. Playing for the first time ever at Madison Square Garden, the Connecticut-born Quick robbed Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello point-blank in the first period, and Derick Brassard with a diving stick save on a wide-open putback in the second. He also stoned Chris Kreider on a breakaway during the opening shift of the third period and Zuccarello twice more with the Rangers playing shorthanded later in that final period of play.
"(Quick) was obviously the best player on the ice tonight," stated Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.
Only one team in NHL history has ever won the Stanley Cup after losing the first three games of the Final; and, ironically, the Kings are just one of four teams that have ever wiped out a 3-0 series deficit in any round to advance to the next round. They did so in the first round this spring against the San Jose Sharks.
"We've got to work ourselves out of this," said Rick Nash, who was second on the team with four shots on goal Monday. "We've been down 3-1 and were able to come back, but even when we were down in that Pittsburgh series we took it a game at a time, and I think that's the biggest thing."
Added McDonagh, "We've rallied before. We need to go for it (Wednesday), there's nothing to save it for."