RANGERS at KINGS
(Los Angeles leads best-of-7 series 1-0)
TV: NBC, CBC, RDS
LOS ANGELES -- The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings will have had nearly 72 hours to think about Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, a game the Kings won 3-2 in overtime, when they take the ice at Staples Center on Saturday.
Justin Williams won the game in the fifth minute of overtime when his goal following a turnover completed the Kings' rally from a 2-0 first-period deficit. The comeback marked the fourth time in seven days the Kings erased a two-goal deficit. They did it three times against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, winning two of the three.
Each team knows it did some things well and has others in which it must improve when the series resumes.
Here are some areas the Rangers and Kings will be concentrating on:
Just because the Kings have the skill and tenacity to erase leads doesn't mean they enjoy it. They also know the good fortune they have encountered in these playoffs will not continue indefinitely. At some point, they will have to cross a bridge too far and will expend a good deal of precious energy for no tangible result.
"I don't know, it's not a perfect situation," Kings forward Marian Gaborik said. "We can't always get away with this, losing 2-0 right from the get-go. We have to make sure we learn from it and just have to have a better start next game because it could have been 3-0 easily. [Goaltender Jonathan Quick] made some great saves. We were able to come back. We just have to play like we did in third period."
The Kings know they can win playing from behind, but they also know they can be absolutely suffocating when they get the lead. That is their goal in Game 2.
"[We] definitely want to have better start in a couple days and we'll see what happens after that," Kings center Anze Kopitar said.
Return to normal
In order to facilitate their Game 1 comeback, the Kings blew up their four-line rotation. Forward Jarret Stoll played up and down the lineup. Center Mike Richards saw more time than usual and was on the ice with Williams in overtime, setting him up after a turnover by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. Kyle Clifford also saw an increase in ice time.
In fact, the Kings were carried heavily by their bottom-six forwards throughout the game as the big guns struggled to maintain the pace. On Thursday, Kings coach Darryl Sutter called out Kopitar in particular, saying he shuffled the lines to try to get a spark not being provided by the top line at times, a line centered by Kopitar
"Partway through the first period, once I recognized guys didn't have their game; it wasn't just Mike [Richards] and [Williams], it was a lot of guys. Jeff played a lot with Kyle and Trevor [Lewis]," Sutter said. "[Stoll] played with everybody. Basically we were trying to manage [Kopitar's] game."
It worked, but the Kings are a better team when they stick with the lines that got them to this point. That means the line of Kopitar, Gaborik and Dustin Brown is getting top-line minutes and the Carter-Tanner Pearson-Tyler Toffoli line is coming out right behind it, followed by the bottom-six forwards, who play more of an energy game.
If everyone is going and the Kings shake off the dead-leg period they suffered through early in Game 1, Los Angeles believes it can play the way it did against Chicago in the previous round.
If the Rangers are looking for a positive from Game 1, it is this: Their speed put a scare into the Kings. It also led to each of their goals, which came on breakaways by Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin 102 seconds apart in the first period. Hagelin had another breakaway in the last minute of the third period, but his chance at winning the game in regulation was thwarted by Quick's glove.
"Their best chances came off of their speed," said Brown, the Kings' captain. "We need to find a way, much like we did against Chicago, in a similar way, [forward Brandon] Saad, in particular, gave us trouble in Chicago; he's fast. It's about getting in their way, also managing the puck a lot better than we did.
"I think that can eliminate some of the threat of their speed. They're still going to have pockets and space to do it throughout the game. But where we can limit them is through the neutral zone, forcing them to dump the puck in more."
The Rangers disagree. They believe they need to generate even more speed, put the Kings on their heels and play more like they did in the first period when they generated several chances off the rush and converted those into extended zone time, as opposed to the third period when they managed three shots and could barely breach the Kings defensive zone.
"I think in the first period, we did a great job of using our speed, getting pucks deep, also getting pucks at the net, which gave us some offensive time, a couple faceoffs in the offensive zone," Hagelin said. "In the third [period] we had way too many turnovers, didn't get deep enough in their zone. They're a good team. If you give them time to skate with the puck, time to spend a lot of time in our end, they're going to do a good job."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault cautioned that it is not a matter of merely skating faster, but it is using their superior speed with a clear purpose in mind.
"We need to play to our strengths," he said. "Let me put it another way: We need to find a way to play to our strengths. They're probably the best opponent we've met. For us to win, we're going to have to find a way to play to our strengths. Speed is definitely one of them."
Let's get physical
The Kings might be the most physical team the Rangers have played in the playoffs, if not during the entire season.
The Kings had 45 hits in Game 1; that's a heavy game by any team's standards. The Rangers answered with 33 hits of their own, including a few big ones by defenseman Anton Stralman, but they admit they were on the receiving end of more hits than they would like.
The Rangers want to step up their physical game in Game 2, but again, it is not as simple as going on a seek-and-destroy mission hoping to send a message. For the Rangers, it has to be more about combining intelligence and physicality into one package.
"We knew they were going to push, test us physically," said New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played 31:12 on Wednesday. "I thought we matched it pretty well. I thought especially the early part of the game there, we were able to break their forecheck, get out of our zone. They got a few more opportunities in the third because of their forecheck.
"For the majority of the game, I felt we were matching them physically. We had some big hits ourselves. We understand they're going to be physical on us, and we're not going to shy away from it for sure. We've got to look for opportunities to be physical on them for our forecheck, our speed. Doesn't necessarily have to be a big hit, but utilizing our legs, getting on the right side of guys, creating turnovers is part of being physical too. We feel we can play that game as well."
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