LOS ANGELES -- Thursday was a big-picture day for the New York Rangers because of what they survived on Wednesday.
The players woke up in the morning, stretched out their arms and collectively realized their season wasn't over yet, that they preserved it for at least another two days by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden.
The cross-country flight that can sometimes summon tired groans from weary players was in fact a welcome gift. Upon landing, the Rangers went directly to Staples Center for a full team practice that was met with enthusiasm and vigor instead of dread and lethargy.
There was happiness in the air, a reason to smile and talk about what can still happen. The Rangers are not done yet. They have another chance to extend their season and put further doubt into the Kings on Friday in Game 5 at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), though the Kings lead the best-of-7 series 3-1.
"We found a way," Martin St. Louis said of the Rangers' Game 4 win, "but we know we're going to have to be better."
Being better is kind of important in the grand scheme of keeping their season going and forcing the need for a Game 6 in New York on Monday.
The only way for the Rangers to be better is to forget the big picture and focus on the small details. They show that New York cannot expect to win Friday night at Staples Center if it plays the same way they did Wednesday at the Garden.
The Rangers know this too.
"I don't think we can count on it to be good enough," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "You never know what is going to happen, but we certainly don't feel good about the way we played as far as giving up a lot of shots, getting outchanced and missing out on a couple of power-play opportunities."
New York's effort in Game 4 was good enough only because goalie Henrik Lundqvist was great in stopping 40 of 41 shots. He also got some help from two pucks that stopped dead on the goal line and refused to move the extra inch or two necessary to give the Kings goals.
"When [Lundqvist] plays like that, there's always a chance of getting a W," Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin said.
But when the Rangers rely on him to play that well without offering him much in the way of help, that's when things can get dicey, like they did Wednesday. New York was outshot 26-3 after Kings captain Dustin Brown scored at 8:46 of the second period, including 15-1 in the third period.
The Rangers barely had the puck. When they did, they chipped it out of the zone and had to go for a line change because they were so tired from chasing the Kings. All the Kings did was track down the puck and get more offensive-zone time.
Rinse. Repeat. Over and over again.
"Of course we would have liked to produce a little bit more, but they're down, they're taking chances," St. Louis said. "We're not taking any chances. We're trying to play a 200-foot game. It seemed like they kept coming at us."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he thought his team defended better in the third period than it did in the second because there weren't as many outnumbered rushes against. But the Rangers didn't do anything offensively after Brown scored. What they did defensively depends on your definition of defense. They were doing more chasing than anything else.
"I think our execution with the puck was our main thing, I don't think we moved the puck around really well," center Derick Brassard said. "We're a team that when we play fast we're on our game, and [Wednesday] it was like, it wasn't there. I thought we competed really hard, but I don't think our execution was there."
The Kings deserve credit for that. They were relentless in their pursuit of possession. They pinched in deep and banged bodies and won puck battles and moved the puck around the zone. They were playing their game to a T, and when that happens usually L.A.'s opponent doesn't have the time or space to muster a response.
"They pinch on every play and they make you make a lot of decisions, and when you have the lead sometimes you're on your heels and you don't want to make mistakes," Brassard said. "I think they just played really well in the third period and it's something, depending on the score [in Game 5], we need to be on our toes and skating. I think they really took it to us in the series in the third period."
All series, he means. The Kings have been the dominant team in the third period since Game 1, when they peppered Lundqvist with 20 shots but couldn't get a single one by him. They eventually won Game 1 in overtime.
They were similarly effective in the third period of Game 2, when they erased a 4-2 Rangers' lead by scoring twice within the first 7:36. Again, they won the game in overtime.
On paper, the third period in Game 3 looks like it favors the Rangers, when it fact it was a cakewalk for the Kings. New York had an 11-2 edge in shots on goal, but all L.A. did was lock down a 3-0 lead by rarely giving up quality opportunites despite the 11 shots against.
Then came the third period (really the second half of the game) in Game 4, when the Rangers were admittedly on their heels and, as St. Louis said, hoping the clock would get down to 0:00 before anything bad happened.
Los Angeles has outshot the Rangers 49-22 in the third period in the series.
"We're going to have to manage those situations [Friday] night," St. Louis said.
That they have a chance to do that is all that really matters in the big picture, which is all that really mattered to the Rangers on Thursday.
That changes Friday, when the small details will redefine New York's big picture.
"We're just going to try to steal a game," Brassard said. "We just want to go back to the Garden for Game 6, and if we do everything can happen."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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