NEW YORK -- The looks on their faces told the story of one end of this Stanley Cup Final. They were looks of disbelief, of disgust, of dismay. And they were looks that shouldn't have surprised anyone who made their way into the New York Rangers dressing room Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's pretty much impossible to be upbeat," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "But you have to be professional. The series is not over."
Not yet anyway. Maybe soon, though.
The Los Angeles Kings lead the best-of-7 series 3-0 heading into Game 4 on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). They are one win away from their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons.
For the Rangers, the questions they face now are hard to deal with, particularly because the answers aren't easy to find. They've instead complained about puck luck not being on their side, about bounces going against them.
"We've had will, we've wanted to win all three games we've played in, but sometimes it just doesn't happen," Richards said. "I can't tell you honestly that we feel we should be down 3-0, but it doesn't really matter if I say that or not because we are. We've played a lot of good periods, a lot of good hockey, and this is the situation we're dealt. We're grown men. We've gotta face it."
Richards then said the Rangers have to come to work Wednesday and put their best foot forward. How can they do that? How can they extend this series?
Here are five ways:
1. Stop blaming the bounces
The Rangers are not in a 3-0 hole because of bad bounces against them. They blew four separate two-goal leads in Games 1 and 2 and got shut out in Game 3. That's why they're down. Bounces are just part of it, as they were in Game 3.
The Kings' first two goals deflected in off Rangers players. The third came after Ryan McDonagh did all he could to defend a 2-on-1, only to have the puck hit him in the skate and bounce right back to Kings forward Mike Richards, who quickly deposited it into the net.
"You can't draw that up," Richards said.
No, but you can avoid the mistakes that led to the bad breaks.
L.A.'s first goal came on a poorly defended rush in the dying seconds of the first period. The third goal came off a 2-on-1 created by an ill-timed pinch by defenseman Dan Girardi and poor coverage by Martin St. Louis, who should have been higher in the zone to cover for Girardi.
The Rangers aren't doing enough to create their own breaks. That's the problem. They need to recognize that.
"There's always more you could do in a loss," Girardi said. "All three goals went off one of us and then into the net, there's nothing you can change about that, but we also had a ton of chances for ourselves to get the lead or tie up the game. We are not blaming our losses on bounces. We've gotta work that much harder to create our own puck luck. That's definitely not an excuse for us."
2. Better Lundqvist
Those numbers need no analysis.
"I know I have to play really well for us to win," Lundqvist said.
He hasn't been terrible. Some of the goals he has given up have been of the tough-luck variety.
Lundqvist said he feels he's tracking the puck well, that he's in position, that he feels good on the ice. But he also knows better than anyone that he hasn't been good enough, and that has to change.
"I'm going to need my best [Wednesday]," Lundqvist said.
3. Get everyone involved
The Rangers got to the Stanley Cup Final by being a four-line team. They've been a one-and-a-half or two-line team in each game of the series. That's not going to cut it, especially against the Kings, who have gotten contributions from up and down their lineup.
The Kings have 11 goals in the series from 11 different players. All four of their lines and two of their three defense pairs have contributed at least one goal.
Three of the Rangers' four even-strength goals have come from the same line (Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello). They have one goal from a defenseman (McDonagh) and two goals on special teams (Carl Hagelin shorthanded, St. Louis on the power play).
Beyond the production, the Rangers have not had a game yet in this series when all four of their lines were forechecking well, getting the puck behind the Kings' defense, making them run around in their own zone and creating chances.
The fourth line of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett did a lot of that in Games 1 and 2, but not much in Game 3. Hagelin was excellent in Game 1 because of his speed, but he hasn't been the same since. Rick Nash was a dominant power forward in Game 3, but not in Games 1 and 2. Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Richards and St. Louis haven't been effective enough.
The Rangers need them all to play their best game of the series in Game 4.
"I don't think it's one issue," defenseman Marc Staal said. "Bottom line is we haven't done enough to win a hockey game against these guys. Pick what you want to pick at, we haven't done enough."
4. Get the puck, get it deep, use the entire zone
Jumping on the Kings early won't be the difference in the game, but it will give the Rangers confidence they belong on the same ice surface as L.A. That confidence has to be waning in the wake of Game 3. They need it back.
To get it, the Rangers have to get pucks in behind the Kings' defense and win them back. They have to play below the dots because that will draw the Kings down and open the high part of the zone. But they can't forget about using the high part of the zone too.
As much as the Rangers want to crash and bang into the crease, they have to be conscious about having too many guys below the dots. The 2-on-1 that led to Mike Richards' goal in the second period Monday was a result of the Rangers having four players down low.
Girardi was deep in the zone and St. Louis went to the puck instead of the high part of the zone. Had he gone to the high part of the zone he would have been able to intercept Kyle Clifford's chip pass up to Richards. He would have stopped the 2-on-1 before it started.
So the key for the Rangers is to get the puck in deep to draw the Kings back. That will open space higher in the zone, which if used properly will give New York a chance to get shots through and still have players at or around the net to create traffic and second-chance opportunities.
5. More Nash
Nash had his best game of the playoffs in Game 3. He might have even scored had it not been for a smart hooking penalty by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty in the second period. Doughty hauled Nash down as he was going for an open wrap-around attempt.
Even when Nash scored in the Eastern Conference Final he wasn't as powerful and as forceful as he was Monday night. The Rangers need him to play that way again. In fact, they need him to play that way all the time.
It's not clear why Nash doesn't always play with the same type of power and aggressiveness he displayed in Game 3, but at least coach Alain Vigneault noticed he had it going and tried to take advantage of it.
Vigneault smartly put Nash on the power play in the second period and gave him a total of 2:18 of ice time on the power play in the game. The power play was New York's most dangerous weapon. Nash played a combined 26 seconds on the power play in Games 1 and 2.
Vigneault will leave Nash on the power play in Game 4 provided Nash shows him he's going to play with the same type of aggression he had in Game 3. Nash has no reason not to play that way. He has no reason not to play that way all the time.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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