NEW YORK -- The public challenge came from Henrik Lundqvist approximately 30 hours before taking the ice for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. He was delivering it to himself. It was the only thing he could do as he stared at the Los Angeles Kings from the bottom of the mountain.
Despite feeling that he was tracking the puck well, staying patient and sticking with his game plan in the series, Lundqvist said after practice Tuesday that what he had done through three games, all losses, wasn't good enough and that he had to raise his level to give the New York Rangers a fighting chance against the Kings and an opportunity to shock the sports world.
The challenge worked Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist conquered. The Rangers have a chance. There will be a Game 5.
Lundqvist made 40 saves and the Rangers avoided the dreaded sweep with a 2-1 victory. It was a departure from the first three games, during which Lundqvist compiled a save percentage of .892 and a 3.13 goals-against average.
Benoit Pouliot and Martin St. Louis provided the goals, and Lundqvist provided the heroics. He allowed a breakaway goal to Kings captain Dustin Brown in the second period, but stopped the final 26 shots he faced, including 15 in the third period, when the Kings held the Rangers to one shot on goal.
"Being OK or good is not going to win you games right now," Lundqvist said. "You have to be better than that."
Lundqvist typically is better in elimination games, particularly those played at the Garden.
He improved his record to 8-0 with a .968 save percentage in his past eight elimination games at home. The Rangers' eight straight wins in home elimination games is an NHL record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Overall, New York is 11-2 in its past 13 elimination games.
"We didn't want to see the Cup coming out on our home ice [Wednesday night]," Lundqvist said. "Just the thought of it makes me feel sick."
Los Angeles still leads the best-of-7 series 3-1. Its next chance to close out the Rangers and win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons is Friday, when the teams play Game 5 at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"We weren't good enough to win. It's about finding a way to be better," Brown said. "It is an opportunity lost. We park it and get ready to go again [in Game 5]."
Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick, coming off a 32-save shutout in Game 3, faced 19 shots and stopped 17 of them. The Kings were able to control possession most of the game thanks in part to their 63 percent success rate on faceoffs (41-24), but they couldn't figure out how to solve Lundqvist enough to make the Stanley Cup come out of its case.
"I think we can do a better job getting to him," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "I think a couple of times where we didn't make it tough on him. The pucks were sitting there. But the pucks he's going to see, he's going to stop. That's just how it is."
Lundqvist's efforts Wednesday held up because Pouliot scored on a deflection at 7:25 of the first period and St. Louis beat Quick from the left post at 6:27 of the second. Pouliot's goal was the Rangers' first since the second period of Game 2, snapping a drought of 123:01.
Lundqvist also benefited from some puck luck, the same kind the Rangers felt they didn't get in the first three games of the series, particularly in Game 3.
On two occasions, the puck squeezed through Lundqvist only to stop directly on the goal line. Defenseman Anton Stralman used his stick to clear the puck off the goal line in the first period, and center Derek Stepan did it with his hand with 1:11 remaining in regulation.
The second puck-on-the-goal-line play created a frenzy in the crease with bodies crashing in and Lundqvist screaming at referee Wes McCauley to blow the whistle because he thought he had the puck tucked into his pads.
"Then I realized it was behind me," Lundqvist said. "I actually apologized, but [McCauley] was cool about it."
Stepan was the first to notice the puck was free and hanging out on the goal line. He said he consciously knew he couldn't cover the puck because if he did, it would have been a penalty shot for the Kings. Instead, he swiped at it with the side of his glove, finally shoving it into Lundqvist's pads.
Stepan admitted it was "a lucky play" that the puck didn't go in. Stralman said the same thing about his save on the goal line in the first period. But it was that type of puck luck that the felt they weren't getting earlier in the series.
"I've been in the game a long time to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They were there [Wednesday night]."
But the Rangers' luck looked like it was running dry in the second period, when defenseman Dan Girardi's stick broke as he attempted to pass the puck across the blue line to John Moore. The puck bounced out to the red line, where Brown picked it up and went in for a breakaway goal, slicing the deficit to 2-1.
"I'm not going to lie, the first thought was, 'Here we go again,' " Lundqvist said. "I guess the important thing was to respond the right way. They had a couple chances right after. I just kept telling myself, 'We need to keep this score going into the third.' That was my approach."
It was yet another personal challenge that he accepted and conquered. Lundqvist needs to keep doing it if the Rangers want to keep playing because simply being good won't be good enough, not if the Rangers want to shock the sports world and conquer the Kings with four straight wins.
"When everything is on the line, you just have to challenge yourself the right way," Lundqvist said. "You have to leave everything out there and be extremely focused. One mistake and the season is over. You're definitely aware of that."
|Willie Mitchell Hi-sticking against Derek Dorsett|
|Mats Zuccarello Delaying Game-Puck over glass against Anze Kopitar|
|Willie Mitchell Hooking against Brian Boyle|
|Drew Doughty Roughing against Benoit Pouliot|
|Benoit Pouliot Roughing against Drew Doughty|
|Tyler Toffoli Slashing against Derek Stepan|
|Dominic Moore Cross checking against Dwight King|