Before the Final began, Game 4 might have followed the blueprint some people envisioned for how the underdog Rangers could find success against the Kings, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist providing the difference the other skaters could not produce.
The Kings pushed and pushed Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, controlling the puck and forcing the Rangers into some desperate defending. New York did just enough, and The King put in a star performance to keep the Rangers alive with a 2-1 victory. The Kings lead the best-of-7 series 3-1. Game 5 is Friday in Los Angeles (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"I wouldn't say that's our best game of the series, but we found a way," Rangers forward Carl Hagelin said. "Our goal was to win the game [Wednesday] night, and we did."
The Kings were the better team across the first three games, but at times only by slim margins. Although the Rangers talked a lot about luck before Game 4, giving up two-goal leads and losing the puck possession battle hardly makes a team unlucky.
Luck was certainly not a problem for New York in Game 4. Their first goal was a double deflection. The second was deflected by Kings defenseman Alec Martinez right to Rangers forward Martin St. Louis at the left post. Twice the Kings put the puck behind Lundqvist and he needed a teammate to keep it from crossing the goal line.
"Don't fool yourself either; Hank stood on his head," said Rangers center Derek Stepan, who swept the puck off the goal line late in the third period. "He made some big saves at big times for us. Those are the big plays that we need at certain moments to keep the momentum or shift the momentum. Hank stood tall, and he's a big part of why we're going back to L.A."
The Kings outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the third period, but they dominated the game for much longer. Los Angeles had 60 percent of the shot attempts at even strength before the third period began, and the disparity grew larger as the clock dwindled.
Los Angeles finished the game with 38 shots at even strength; New York had 12. Once the Rangers took a 2-0 lead and stopped getting power plays, the offense dried up.
How tilted was the ice? There were 33 faceoffs in the New York zone, 16 in the neutral zone and 16 in the Los Angeles end.
"We had a lot of good opportunities," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We didn't really give up too much against. Both goals were pretty bad bounces against. But the bottom line is that we didn't score goals when we needed to and that's why we lost the game."
It might have been ugly at times for the Rangers, but it would be hard to question their resolve. They blocked 20 shots, which was partly an extension of never having the puck but also a show of their commitment to try to help Lundqvist where they could.
Then there were arguably the two biggest plays of the game, when defenseman Anton Stralman and Stepan were able to keep the puck from crossing the goal line after it was behind Lundqvist on those two occasions.
Stralman actually missed the puck the first time as it lay on the red goal line in the first period. Kings center Jeff Carter did as well, allowing Stralman to clear it off the line with a second try (to not put it in his own net while reloading for a second swipe was a deft move on its own).
The second time came in the closing moments of the game with the Kings pressing for a late equalizer. Stepan not only moved the puck away from the goal line, but also had the presence of mind to not cover it with his glove or it would have been a penalty shot for Los Angeles.
"Yeah, I knew that I couldn't put my hand on it, so I just used the side of my glove," Stepan said. "[Referee] Wes [McCauley] was right there and he did a great job of being on top of it, being able to see it.
"We had some fortunate bounces for us, and our goaltender made some huge saves for us. At this time, at this point right now, we're going to need to continue to have great goaltending, we're going to need to continue to get some bounces, and we have to continue to work."
After each of their three victories, players from the Kings talked about needing to play better. They were clearly better in Game 4, but that same mentality remained.
"There's a lot of stuff we can clean up in the other parts of our game," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "At the end of the day, we weren't good enough to win. It's about finding a way to be better. ... If we clean up our play, you make your own bounces at this time of year. We had chances that we didn't put in the back of the net. We make and break your game. We need to be better in certain areas of our game."
Linemate Anze Kopitar echoed Brown's sentiments. The Kings will probably continue Thursday to talk about needing or wanting to be better in Game 5.
The other 18 Rangers who don't wear goaltending equipment will actually need to be better, or there might not be another game at Madison Square Garden this season.
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